The growing need for Music Education

The Growing Need for Music Education in Community Centers

Musical education has always played an important role in shaping the lives of youths and now is the time, as we return to normalcy, for Houston to reform its community centers to better accommodate the musical needs of underprivileged youths. Nonprofit organizations are single-handedly supporting summer music education and community centers must address their lack of access to musical education during summertime.

Music is a powerful tool of change from both an academic and behavioral standpoint as it provides a medium of limitless expression for young minds while also kick starting their success in life. Music increases the chances of class participation and achievement in other subjects.

Young individuals are most benefited by music when considering benchmarks such as standardized testing. In a 2003 experiment, standardized test scores were compared between two groups of third grade students taking non-music and music classes, and the result yielded a higher mean score for the students taking music classes.

Additionally, in 2006, the correlation between the music programs and standardized tests was recorded; middle schoolers who attended music programs fared 19% better in English and 17% better in math compared to those who did not attend such programs. Furthermore, music has also been shown to foster the growth of many secondary or “softer” attributes necessary to the success of children. Music is a foundation of society and the gateway into any culture. Studies have shown that a music education can vastly advance a child’s cognitive growth, improve their self-esteem, and strengthen their coping abilities, which allows them to better deal with anxiety.

The American education system recognizes the power of music and has since made music programs available in 94% of elementary schools and 91% of secondary schools.

What happens when summer starts? Confined to a strict 8 hour school day, 5 days a week, it is not nearly as easy to get into trouble during the 3 months of free time. Juvenile crime rates regularly swell during the higher temperatures and it not only encourages kids to go outside but also promotes aggressive behavior.

Moreover, these results disproportionately affect youths with lower socioeconomic status. Being exposed to music education lowers the chances of getting into trouble. When access is made available, summer music programs have shown to establish trust and connection amongst youths. The creation of music in groups is a “social act”, that can lead youths to experience a sense of acceptance, accomplishment and a sense of community. It has long been the mission of many nonprofit organizations to provide access to summer music education to underprivileged youths in this country. For example, Kidmunity Music, a music education program for elementary-aged children in Fresno, CA, has been reaching underserved communities in central Fresno in hopes of providing a music education without the financial strain that comes with all the summer music programs available. Additionally, Youth Music Project, a nonprofit music school based in West Linn, Oregon, strives to make available multiple genres of music education to youth by offering tuition aid, instrument rentals, and extraordinary, “state-of-the-art performance opportunities.” In 2018, 40% of all enrollments were tuition free.

In Houston, American Festival for the Arts Summer Conservatory (AFA), Houston’s largest non-profit music camp, is also breaking down the financial barriers experienced by Houstonians. Rodolfo Morales, a graduate of Julliard with both a bachelor and master’s degree in piano performance, is not only an active performer but also a year-round piano teacher at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Kinder HSPVA) and AFA. “I teach at AFA during the summer where we have a big number of minority students, higher than the typical Kinder HSPVA piano department,” says Morales, “Something I consistently find is that there are students whose experience is like a “wow” moment, where they seem to realize there is a much bigger world of possibilities than they had previously imagined.” A 2010 recipient of the Pre-Collegiate Teacher of the Year Award from the Texas Music Teachers Association (TMTA), Morales believes “music education nurtures and expands both critical thinking, abstract conceptualization, and spiritual depth, three pillars of Humanism that make a life worth living.” As a way of fulfilling AFA’s mission to musically elevate all aspects of today’s youth, Morales confirms “AFA is unusually generous with financial aid.” Ariel Workeneh, a music-oriented pupil part of the Kinder High School for the Performing and  Visual Arts’ class of 2021 and a participant of AFA, had started her journey on the piano in her elementary school music program. “Through music class, I have met friends in the music world that I consider to be more of a family than simple classmates,” says Workeneh, “over this time, the musical exposure has helped me develop a confidence that has spread to other areas of my life.” During her time at AFA, Ariel Workeneh was able to work with a group of musically excited students. “I was able to build a connection through our time practicing and the excitement of  performing together.”

The positive impact that AFA has created does not encompass enough of the underprivileged population in Houston. Many Houstonians with financial constraints do not have access to such opportunities due to the limited capacity of the camp. With 62 locations available in the Houston metropolitan area, community centers are the most accessible to Houstonians. However, community recreational centers mainly provide a wide variety of physical activities with the intention of creating a safe environment for people of all ages to build healthy habits. For example, 19 of the 62 Houston community centers provide the only summer enrichment program (S.E.P.) for juveniles available which focuses on recreational activities such as fitness and recycling awareness.

Data drawn from the German Socio-Economic Panel showed that adolescents engaged in musical activities achieve higher scores in languages, scoring about one sixth higher than the average grade scored by adolescents engaged in physical activities. Moreover, musically affluent youths are 8% more likely than sport oriented youths to attend upper secondary school, and 10% more likely to aspire to seek higher education at a university. It is statistically proven that music ultimately leads to more behavioral and academic benefits. In order for the city of Houston to utilize the power of music, summer music programs must be incorporated as a community center norm.

Community centers are meant to be a safe haven where kids can express their creativity and energy. Music education provides underserved adolescents with the mental, social, and cognitive skills needed to succeed in life. Houston community centers need to use their immense outreach to not only implement summer music education into their programs but also open more paths for underprivileged youths to a brighter future.

Magen Zeng, is a rising senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. 
Magen majored in piano and music has played a large role in defining her future career.
Find her @_magenzeng