I was recently alerted to an impending budget crunch for Illinois arts organizations, if cuts to state funding of the Illinois Arts Council are not reversed.
Late last month, Governor Blagojevich vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly on August 10, reducing funding to the Illinois Arts Council by 19%. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago are among hundreds of organizations and individual artists who enrich the lives of every state resident and visitor through a wide range of artistic programming. Every business and individual is impacted by this veto.
As passed by the general assembly, the IAC budget represents less than one half of 1% of the state budget, an amazing bargain at $2 per citizen per year.
Also on the chopping block is the state board of education's Arts and Foreign Language grant program. If the Governor's veto is not reversed, this entire program will be cut.
Hopefully, this is not new news for all CCM readers, but I encourage all colleagues and friends of the arts to raise your voice in opposition of the proposed cuts.
Illinois Arts Week is slated for October 7-13, and, in eloquent (and now ironic) form, the state has published a proclamation affirming the importance of the arts to each Illinoisan.
Regardless of political affiliation, it would be a terrible sign of concession and apathy NOT to respond with fervent support of the immeasurable benefits of a rich arts experience for every citizen of the state.
Consider what the value of the arts is to YOU. (If you are reading this blog, there is a pretty good chance that it is significant.)
Imagine what difference could be in the life of your neighbors or the students at the nearby public school through:
~a hands-on recreation of an Impressionistic masterpiece, offering a creative way to explore cultural and social common ground;
~the chance to take affordable violin lessons with an inspiring teacher, a new role model who opens a gateway for creativity, pride, and aspiration;
~the opportunity for an at-risk teenager to express--through community theater--the struggle to find a meaningful place in a complex world;
~attending an inspiring orchestra performance of music from different cultures and traditions, lifting a perceived notion of exclusivity and introducing the possibility of creative teamwork.
Perhaps we won't have the chance to find out.
Please share this information and voice your opinion.
According to Bob Fiedler, Executive Director of the People's Music School, "there are nearly half a million students enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools who don't have access to significant musical training at school. This is our role, to address that need." People's Music School, one of about a dozen community music schools in the Chicago area, approaches this need in an amazing way, by offering free instruction in a community of predominantly low-income immigrants and ethnic minorities.
I had a chance to speak with Fiedler and Vincent Centeno, the school's Director of Music and Programs, last week. According to Centeno, many of school's students are realizing a dream that their parents deferred. Centeno is himself an example, having emigrated from the Philippines to Uptown when he was nine. Although he had studied piano as a child, his family could not afford a piano in the United States.
At that time, People's Music School had not yet been founded; however, after a short stint at a Chicago Park District music program where he was asked to play trumpet, Vincent continued to study piano with an aunt and, later, with a music student from Northwestern University. In college-Centeno studied piano at DePaul University with the late Melody Lord and long-time CSO member Mary Sauer-he began to hear about People's from friends who were hired as faculty. After meeting founder Rita Simo, Vincent was attracted to the school's philosophy (students are required to take one full term of music theory classes before beginning instrumental instruction) and the amazing sense of community. People's Music School offered him a great opportunity to give back.
Centeno's story is beautiful, but NOT unique in such a wonderful place as People's Music School. In exchange for free access to music instruction, students and parents are expected to contribute time doing a variety of administrative tasks. In addition to providing vital logistical support, this involvement gives every child and parent a feeling of ownership and belonging. They commit their time (traveling to and from classes or lessons, practicing, volunteering) and invest their energy in the school because they benefit immensely from the support it offers them and their community. Each student and parent understands that their community is stronger because they work together.
A true People's Music School success story is Victor Marin. As a child, Victor was drawn to the guitar, yet his family could not afford the cost of the instrument or instruction. After learning about Peoples' Music School in his church bulletin, he began a journey that would change his life. He began taking guitar lessons in 1982. After four years at People's Music School, Victor attended Roosevelt University to continue his training. In 1989, Victor was invited by Simo to return to the school to teach guitar.
After 25 years at People's Music School, Victor hopes to inspire in his students a lasting enjoyment of music and encourage the development of discipline. Just as the people were incredibly influential and motivating during his study at People's, Vincent is himself a great role model for the benefits of music education and community involvement.
When asked what means the most, Marin offered the following: "giving back what was given to me makes me very proud."
I always enjoy asking what people consider are the benefits of music education. Inevitably, I hear something new, colored by each person's own experience and the challenges that he or she faces every day. Of course, Fiedler mentioned the connections between music, creativity and analytical learning. But what I've held onto most is his idea that music offers an opportunity to tap into joy and self-confidence, natural byproducts of an ongoing musical experience.
After study and individual practice, students are encouraged to perform. At People's Music School the annual Performathon offers a chance to show off what the student has learned; it gives friends, family, and peers the opportunity to celebrate the year's accomplishments and share in the joy of hearing live music. The student can't help but feel proud and motivated to continue; the audience can't help but feel inspired to listen again or to participate themselves!
Another related benefit, although much larger scale, was described in a 1999 PBS program titled Seeking Solutions. Citing a 1995 study of Chicago neighborhoods, the program revealed that despite the circumstance of the neighborhood, Uptown had half the crime rate of other city communities. Credit was given to the strengths of the cultural, social service, and neighborhood institutions-including People's Music School.
(More recent statistics, obtained from the 2005 City of Chicago Police Department Murder Analysis, states that the murder rate in the district surrounding People's Music School (23rd District) is the second lowest in the entire city at 2.1 victims per 100,000 residents!)
During a time when there is serious concern about the continued, long-term viability of classical music in our culture, when school music programs are hanging by a thread, the story of People's Music School offers hope to those who lack access to a meaningful, musical experience in their community. 350 students at a time, People's is nurturing the next generation of musicians and audience members. Their stories are beautiful examples of what is possible anywhere.
For those who are conscious of a need to build stronger communities and nurture positive values and skills among the youth in our city (discipline, hard work, respect, self-pride, critical thinking, active listening, poise), an easy way to begin is by playing an instrument! People's Music School is nurturing the development of strong citizens, 350 at a time.
People's offers instruction on 13 instruments and voice, music theory, and opportunities to perform in ensembles or solo. Enrollment is open to anyone over the age of four, on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, please visit the school website. For a listing of other Chicago-area community music schools, visit here.
For me, summer at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is full of season-end reports and preparations for next season, and combined with a lull in imminent deadlines and an inbox that seems to grow at a snail's pace, I am happy to have some time to reflect on the effectiveness of our programs and think about opportunities for growth and improvement.
I recently received the season evaluation of our Music Activity Partnership (MAP) program, currently in the middle of a three-year partnership with select classrooms at 10 select Chicago public elementary schools.
MAP works with classroom teachers (most without any previous musical training), integrating musical activities into their repertoire of teaching techniques. Participating classrooms are given access to an exceptional array of opportunities, including Teaching Artist visits, in-school performances, and a trip to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Youth Concert. (For a more thorough description of the MAP program, visit here).
In the words of one participating teacher, MAP is "a jewel of a program...it's so holistic. So many angles to getting music in the classroom."
As the season's evaluation supports, participating students made large strides in understanding and enjoying music. Considering the quality of the experiences offered by MAP, these results should not be a surprise. But what is the difference between the students who participate in the MAP program and CSO audience members, amateur instrumentalists, or classical music enthusiasts?
The very short answer is "More." More exposure and access, and the consistent involvement of individuals-teachers, parents, and others-who take on the responsibility of nurturing the growing interest.
The longer answer is enhanced, I think, by one of my favorite models of human behavior: Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The Hierarchy, shown below, is a visual representation of the order in which we are innately drawn towards fulfilling different personal needs.
At the bottom are basic, survival elements (food, water, safety and shelter). As these are obtained, there are natural urges for emotional stability (belongingness, self-esteem, social acceptance) and, finally, complex understanding (beauty, justice, realizing one's full potential).
Can this model be translated to illustrate levels of MUSICAL need? Does this enlighten our understanding of responsibility to provide those needs?
I should pause to note that several bloggers have recently written about the benefits of a prolonged musical experience (Cincinnati pianist Joshua Nemith, Chicago bassist Jason Heath), based on a recent study by NAMM. There is also a great page on the MENC Advocacy website with statistics and facts supporting the benefits of musical education on a variety of skills. Needless to say that there is a growing body of solid support here.
A hierarchy of musical needs
Musical "needs" are not tied to physical survival, however, evidence from any of the above sources (and from my own experience as a musician and teacher) supports the many ways that music enables the fulfillment of Maslow's higher-level needs, specifically esteem, aesthetic and cognitive needs, self-actualization. So I insist on the use of the word "needs" in this transposed model.
Exposure to music and music education is one common denominator among successful, satisfied, articulate people and should be a guaranteed opportunity for every child. Moreover, an ongoing musical experience (ideally begun at a young age) is the answer to concerns about the stability of orchestras and arts organizations. Although it will not sell tickets now, it is an investment in a future generation of musically-literate patrons and participants.
Below is a reinvention of this hierarchy, with musical needs parallel to human needs. (In my diagram, the hierarchy is presented upside-down.)
Hierarchy of Musical Needs
Food and drink
Primary musical competence:
the ability to listen; understanding the musical language (rhythm and pitch)
Security and physiological safety
continued experience and access prevents a threat to primary musical competence
Belongingness and love needs:
Affiliation, acceptance, affection
Everyone shares the ability to participate in music (as a listener or performer).
Competence, approval, recognition
Esteem needs provided through musical participation:
Musical participation provides an opportunity to meet these needs.
Aesthetic and cognitive needs:
Knowledge, understanding, goodness, justice, beauty, order, symmetry
The musical aesthetic:
Ongoing musical study offers the opportunity to understand and participate in artistic creation.
Cognitive enhancement through music:
There are countless parallel academic, professional, and social skills that music helps to develop.
Realizing one's full potential
Continuing a life-long relationship with music; using musical experience and skills to build a satisfying life.
Increasing levels of this hierarchy do NOT have to be commensurate with musical performance skills. That is to say that fulfillment is not limited to Juilliard Students or American Idols. Musical participation and achievement IS available to everyone, and it is possible to begin at any point in life.
In Maslow's Hierarchy, needs are achieved along a flexible continuum. As life circumstances change, a person may move backwards, to a lower level of need. By contrast, intellectual musical achievement is permanent.
Consider this response from a student attending one of this season's CSO Very Special Promenade concerts (for children in kindergarten through 3rd grade) as motivation for pursuing these needs. When asked to describe how hearing the concert made him feel, he drew the picture below.
And, in a way, Maslow underscores this idea. He includes creative abilities among the instinctual self-actualizing potentials, that is, among the skills that allow humans to be the best that they can be. Creativity is given the same altitude as reason, problem solving, morality, and objectivity. If creativity--at the core of musical participation--is among the few truly human traits, shouldn't these skills be nurtured at the primary levels of need?How should these needs be ensured? Please share your thoughts.
I am one of eight staff members who administer educational and access-building programming for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, reaching over 100,000 individuals annually!
We occupy a privileged and highly visible position in the city's cultural life, not without great expectations. (All the implications of such a profiled position--benefits and stresses--are another discussion altogether that I will approach later this summer.)
But for today's conversation: every Chicagoan should have access to an in-depth and personally relevant arts education experience. As remarkable as the CSOA's programs' reach may be, approximately 2,700,000 city residents are left out. Even together with other major arts organizations--including those who participate in this website--we lack a mechanism for delivery that can potentially reach every household in the city.
Thankfully, there are a group of organizations who make great inroads to this objective: our community music schools.
(Granted, I am overlooking public and private school music programs, obviously a vital partner and a great contributor. The effectiveness of the public school music programs in particular is, again, another future topic.)
Community music schools are as diverse as the neighborhoods they serve, from the tuition-free People's Music School in Uptown, to the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute, and the West Loop's Merit School of Music, to name a few.
They vary in size, in constituency, in mission, and in programs offered. But they share a commitment to encouraging a meaningful and life-changing involvement with music, one student at a time, and catering to the needs of the surrounding community.
These remarkable places bring vitality into the lives of their students and, by encouraging the exploration of musical opportunities in their wider community, connect them with kindred spirits.
Our research tells us that an individual is more likely to buy a ticket to a Chicago Symphony concert if he or she has experience playing an instrument or singing in a choir. Certainly, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a vested interest in the success of our community music schools as a method of audience development. But my experience with our recent Silk Road event, The Stone Horse, brings new interest and urgency.
(I may sound like a broken record these days, in the way that I find endless connections to and results from the Silk Road experience. But there is important connective tissue.)
Anyone who attended that performance knows what amazing things are possible by bringing people together to share music. Two months' intensive experience generated an outpouring of joy and enthusiasm from participating students that gave me chills, not to mention a quality of performance that exceeded all expectations.
Imagine what might happen if more in our communities were to participate in music. Our community music schools make this happen!
Later this summer, I will begin to profile several of these organizations, in particular focusing on the specific niche that they fill in their communities.
In the meantime, I would like to welcome readers to share comments and ideas about their own community music experiences: what it has meant to you, how it has brought enjoyment to you as a participant and an audience member, how it has changed your outlook on your community, etc.
A listing of local community music schools can be found here.
As the Education Manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, I am afforded a constant stream of opportunities to be inspired by the music performed at Symphony Center--a haven for the transcendental experiences created by the world's greatest collective of classical musicians and the best guest artists anywhere.
But what gives me the greatest charge of excitement is seeing young people witness--and be captivated by--the expressive capacity demonstrated by our musicians.
Surprisingly, even with a very limited amount of preparation or guidance, young people realize that, because of exposure to music, their life is irrevocably different and the realm of possibility is wide open. THEY can develop a meaningful relationship with music (or any other form of artistic expression, for that matter). THEY can participate in this creativity themselves.
Such was the case at the June 5 culminating performance to our Silk Road season. To the audience of nearly 10,000 chilly Chicagoans at Millennium Park, The Stone Horse: A Silk Road Journey was a rare chance to see a veritable brain trust of artistry on one stage (members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble with master storyteller Ben Haggarty and exceptional soloists) AND to witness tear-jerking performances by over 500 Chicago public school students.
The performance was remarkable, a true testament to the collaborative spirit that Mr. Ma embodies. Others have already profiled the performance and I would direct you to their review.
I will say that, having an insider's view of this program and having spent an enormous amount of time and effort on its production, I am still stunned, more than a week later, by a product that speaks to the dedication of artists, teachers, and staff from multiple organizations, not just to produce an impressive spectacle for the city of Chicago, but for the students who participated as performers and their families and friends, beaming with pride from their reserved seats.
The student performances were outstanding! During a seven-week series of in-school workshops led by local Teaching Artists, continued reinforcement from classroom teachers and school music specialists, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, continued artwork in their classrooms, a dress rehearsal that brought Mr. Ma and his colleagues into the school auditoriums, and a full day of sound check and rehearsal at Millennium Park prior to the performance, the student musicians progressed from little to no prior experience to owning their specific role in a massive production and understanding its significance to Silk Road Chicago.
Now, each student will pause and listen in a different way to the sound of an orchestra, the beating of a bongo, or the ringing of a bell. By performing for an audience of 10,000, each of them has an elated feeling of confidence and achievement that participating in music helped uncover. Each of them knows that Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra care enough to visit their elementary school. And each of them has the sense that great things can happen when you bring people together with a common task.
Below are excerpts from two participants' responses. The first is from an administrator at one of the participating schools; the second is from a parent.
"I would like to thank you and your staff for the most memorable and exciting experience in my 35 years as an educator. The "Silk Road Journey" is something the students will remember for the rest of their lives, it was incredible from start to finish."
"Words cannot express my feelings and other parents what we felt that day, but excitement. Some parents I notices were almost in tears in just Hearing the sound of their instruments our children played. This is just once in a life time opportunity event our school will always carry in our Hearts. Thank you all for giving us a chance of a life time."
This is what we work for!
(Photos by Todd Rosenberg)