| Africa Studio via Shutterstock

Kids Music Day highlights music's educational benefits

A music advocacy organization hopes to draw attention to the importance of music in education through a national Kids Music Day on Oct. 7.

The organization, Keep Music Alive, was founded by musician Vincent James and his wife, Joanne, two years ago. Working entirely alone, the pair has recruited 74 music schools in 21 states.

“It’s growing by the day,” James said.

Participating schools will hold special performances, open houses and musical instrument drives to raise awareness of the impact that music education can have on young people.  

“The studies that have been done over the last 20 years show that if you have children that are introduced to music and arts education early, it actually helps to connect their left and right centers of the brain earlier and helps them do better in other subjects,” James said. “It also helps with things like self-confidence, social skills and self-discipline.”

In fact, dozens of studies done over the last two decades have shown that learning music helps people multitask, make decisions, and remember complex information. Students of music have been shown to perform better in mathematics, spatial reasoning, reading and SAT tests.

In the last 12 years or so, as schools have focused more on standardized testing and core curriculum, there has been an outcry against cutting music programs in schools. Hundreds of editorials from such outlets as US News, the Huffington Post and PBS decry the loss of music education opportunities.

But statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that music programs are still going strong in many public schools. The most recent data comes from a report published in 2012. It compared the state of music and arts education during the 1999-2000 school year to that of the 2009-2010 school year.

The report found no change in the percentage of public elementary schools providing music education to students. A majority of elementary schools, 91 percent, offered music instruction. Among these, 93 percent provided music instruction at least once per week.

High schools saw a slight rise in music classes, from 90 percent in 2000, to 91 percent in 2010, according to the report. Most schools, 91 percent, had dedicated rooms for instruction and 54 percent offered more than five music courses.

The perceived value of arts programs also seemed to be increasing according to the study. In 2000, only 52 percent of schools included coursework in the arts as a requirement for graduation. By 2010, that number had risen to 57 percent.

These numbers show an encouraging trend, and James wants to make sure that it continues.

“I’ve been looking at what’s been going on in the music world for the last several years,” James said. “It really hit hard during the recession and it’s continued since then.”

There’s no denying that the world of music is changing. Streaming services and mobile devices mean that Americans have access to more entertainment than ever, but that the traditional mechanisms by which musicians get paid have become less relevant.

James and his wife founded Keep Music Alive as a way to remind people of the value of music, both in education and in the world outside of school.

Originally, James had hoped to recruit public and private schools as well as music schools, but limited resources got the better of them. The organization has not yet secured non-profit status and so is entirely self-funded.

“We are hoping to partner with some larger organizations next year to help bring this to even more people,” James said.

In the meantime, James is working on compiling the second edition of “88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life.” The first edition featured 150 quotes and stories from music educators, performers and celebrities.

“We reached out to thousands of musicians and music educators and asked them if they had a story that they thought would be inspirational and work well for the book,” James said. “When we first reached out to them they didn't know us from Adam and it was the first book, the first edition.”

He was staggered by the response. Celebrities like Bobby Kimball, the lead singer of Toto; Billy Steinberg, writer of “Like a Virgin” and other hits; and the Grammy Award Winning artists The Battersby Duo contributed their stories.

Fifty percent of the proceeds from sales of the book went to non-profit organizations that support schools in need including Guitars in the Classroom, The Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation, and the Spirit of Harmony Foundation.