It has in recent years – or decades, for that matter – been fashionable in some circles to bemoan the state of musical activity in this country. Indeed, many if not most professional musicians, music educators, and music merchants would have us believe that the sky is indeed falling on the musical world and that music-making, as we have come to know and love it in the past, is rapidly going to hell in a handbasket, due to variety of inauspicious reasons, such as governmental and community indifference, lack of adequate funding, planning, and grass roots support.
Quite frankly, we at Antique Sound Workshop have never subscribed to this "Chicken Little" scenario of the musical world. While our customer base may well not be typical of the American populace as a whole, our experience of more than thirty years in the music business, together with our experience as and ongoing daily communications with professional musicians and music educators, would seem to indicate that the current state of affairs in the musical world is in point of fact far healthier than the doomsayers would have us believe.
It was therefore not at all a surprise to us that a recent Gallup poll supported by NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), an organization of which ASW has proudly been a member for many years, has unearthed some interesting statistics which, if nothing else, may well serve to contradict some of the widely-held negative beliefs about the current state of music-making in the United States. Herewith are a few interesting facts and figures from the results of this poll:
First, it would seem that we Americans are apparently making more music, on the whole, than any other nationality:
- The U. S. market constitutes 42.7% of global music instrument purchases, followed by Japan at 15.6% and the United Kingdom at 6.7%.
- More than one-half (52%) of U. S. households have at least one person, age 5 or older, who is currently playing a musical instrument, as compared to 37% in the U. K. and 36% in Australia.
- Perhaps even more significant, 40% of U. S. households have two or more persons actively involved in playing music.
- Marginally more women (51%) play music instruments than men (49%), although that difference is clearly not all that statistically significant.
- The fastest-growing group of music makers is between the ages of 18 and 34, an increase of 5% since just 2003.
- Those interviewed reported that the primary influence that caused them to take up playing an instrument were: (1) their parents (37%), (2) their own initiative (29%), (3) a teacher (17%), or (4) someone else (16%).
- Almost 75% of those playing instruments today began to do so before age 11.
- The number of students participating in school instrumental music activities and private lessons has increased by 11% since 2003.
While admittedly the above statistics may be open to some interpretation, particularly in matters of cause and effect, the numbers alone are indisputable evidence that music-making is an enjoyable activity for a significant number of Americans.
Furthermore, the polled attitudes and opinions of Americans in regard to making music turned up some interesting information:
- 85% of American believe that music is "a very important part of their lives."
- Of those Americans who have for whatever reason never been involved in playing a musical instrument, 82% wish they had learned to play a musical instrument, and 67% expressed an interest in learning to do so.
- 94% of those polled believe that music should be part of a complete education and that schools should offer instrumental music instruction as part of their regular curriculum.
- 85% of those polled believe that participation in school music programs corresponds with better grades and higher test scores.
The current, widely-held popular belief that "Mozart makes you smart" has recently attracted critical commentary from some quarters. Even the most ardent advocates of this pop psych truism will, in their more honest moments, have to admit that music is no universal panacea for stupidity. Nevertheless, there is apparently still a good deal of validity in the belief that music participation can and does have some beneficial impact upon other types of learning and skill development.
In regard to children and teens, the most recent research, as published by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), of which Antique Sound Workshop has been a proud member for decades, indicates that:
- Playing music positively affects the development of children's cognitive skills.
- It builds confidence, self-discipline, and inspires creativity.
- It increases productivity and helps kids and teens connect socially with their peers.
- Students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express ideas.
Furthermore, professional educators are in wide agreement that musical activity produces any number of tangible benefits to students involved in school music programs:
- 96% of public school principals believe that participating in music education encourages and motivates students to stay in school longer.
- 89% of principals believe that music education contributes to higher graduation (i.e., lower attrition) rates.
- The College Entrance Examination Board found that high school students in music scored 63 points higher in verbal and 44 points higher in math scores on their college boards than students with no arts participation.
The benefits of music-making are not limited just to school-age youngsters. In regard to middle-aged adults and seniors:
- Playing a musical instrument exercises the brain and helps to fight memory loss.
- It also helps reduce job burnout, improves overall mood, and fosters a general sense of well-being.
- On a physiological level, music-making reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. Even further, it can reverse stress at a molecular level.
- Involvement in music, even as a solitary activity, can stave off depression and loneliness. It can increase human growth hormone (HgH) among active older Americans.
We suspect that the above-cited Gallup Poll facts and figures will come as no great surprise to customers of Antique Sound Workshop. Indeed, our presentation of them here may well be a classic case of preaching to the choir (or the recorder consort). However, it is probably well for those of us in the presumably insular niche of early music performance to realize that what we have chosen to do, either as a hobby, a profession, or a business enterprise, is not so unusual, esoteric, or isolated as some of us might be led to believe. In point of fact and figure, we are simply a part, albeit a very special and rapidly growing one, of the overall musical scene in the United States, one that is a good deal larger, healthier, and more widespread and robust than some of us had heretofore ever imagined.
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