A well-balanced education in the arts is a long-standing tradition at Gill St. Bernard's. Specifically, the tradition of excellence in music education has prepared decades of GSB students for their future endeavors. But what does that look like daily for our students?
As I plan our Lower School students' music experiences each week, balancing the beauty and expressive qualities of music with its connection to all areas of learning has proven to be both challenging and rewarding. During the month of December, second and third grade students had the opportunity to use the technology lab during music class time to explore the scientific properties of sound while observing, manipulating, and creating music with a series of web-based educational experiences from Google called Chrome Music Lab.
Students didn't separate their scientific thoughts on sound production from their intrinsic need for self-expression. They enthusiastically jumped in headfirst, effortlessly synchronizing their scientific curiosity with their individual artistic passions to create beautiful, dissonant, peaceful, shocking, harmonious, awkward, and unique creations. Time flew by, and when I announced the end of the lab time, students were disappointed. The disappointment was short-lived when I explained how these tools were available to them at home and explained how they could continue to explore with the tools online.
In the world of music education, there is often professional debate about the merits of a "music education for music's sake" stance versus a "music education to boost performance in traditionally academic areas" mentality. Numerous articles are published every year suggesting that student test scores and success in math, science, reading, and language are higher for students who have had a formal music education. We must be sure to look carefully at the research methods used in each article, as often there are several other factors at work in these groups, such as socio-economic standing, teacher preparation, and several other contributing factors. Conversely, there are also a multitude of professional articles each year pleading with educational leaders to include music education for the sake of its evocation of creativity and self-expression.
Toby Deller, renowned British violist and writer states, "By incorporating music into various areas of educational activity, rather than restricting it to a dedicated classroom slot, [schools have] introduced the idea of music as an essential part of its students' lives both inside and outside the teaching system. [Music] is a means of self-expression, an outlet (a playground, even) for our creativity; it offers a sense of purpose, empathy, and communality with those we play with or listen to (not to mention with those who created it and have played it before us); it can help us in our contemplation of and appreciation for beauty in various guises; for some, it offers freedom, mental wellbeing and a sense of identity."
The power to be uninhibited by traditional ideas of what a specific subject matter is, can lead to balanced learning. Even more than balance, modeling the freedom to embrace the cohesiveness of integrative learning serves to propel our students toward their goals and a meaningful life.