Why Music Education Matters: Can Your Dentist Save Souls?

Yesterday I got an email from the school secretary: "Unfortunately we have to move you from your teaching room tomorrow. Polished Dental will be here and that is the space they work out of all day... so sorry for the inconvenience. Just putting out this email so I don't forget to try to find a space, if you have an ah-ha moment and think of something please let me know =-)"

I appreciate the smiley face, and she seems to be a lovely woman. But...  isn't this the room I also work out of, two days a week, all year?

At least I have a room to be kicked out of. My colleague, who teaches stringed instruments in the same school on the same days, has to move her teaching space three times in a day. For two hours, she is in a corner of the cafeteria. Then she is in a small room in the west wing of the school, then in a closet/storage space to finish off the day in the east wing. She has no breaks between lessons, and she has to lug a cello, a violin, a viola, her teaching bag, and a crate of music, as well as five chairs and five awkward music stands with her when she goes. She has about three minutes to do it, so that the next lesson group is not cut too short by the shuffling. Once she gets to her new space, she has neither the means nor the time to set up visual aids and other classroom postings that we are taught are so helpful and important for a productive teaching environment.

We are licensed teachers. We have as much education as classroom teachers, and spent just as much money on it, and we care intensely, driven by passion to share this gift of music. How about also being offered the same productive teaching environment as our classroom teachers? We do understand that we are not teaching MCAS subjects, and we understand the critical importance of mathematical and logical skills, reading and writing, and how important it is to know how things work, and about the history and evolution of the society we live in. Those are critical, irreplaceable pillars of public education because they help us contribute productively to society and community.

You know what else is critical and immensely productive to society? People's hearts and souls.

I learned to play my instrument in school. It was free. We had no resources at that time for private lessons, so it was the only way. Now, I use that music every day to uplift the humans around me and help them trudge through a life that is equally studded with joyous moments as it is bullet-holed with challenge, loss, and grief.

With Marge at BID Plymouth, Dec. 1, 2019. Love.
On Sunday, I went with three musician friends to play music at our friend Marge's hospital bedside. Margie has been coming to see us play every Monday for the last couple of years. She has a vodka & tonic or two with Mary at the bar, and dances and sings along with us all night. Margie has become a wonderful friend.

One day in September, she had a headache and some lightheadedness, only to discover that there is some cancer to be fought. Now, December 1, she just finished her second round of chemo. While she was in treatment, she could barely speak, never mind even look at her phone. This woman, who had been skydiving in her 70s, could no longer stand up by herself—all in the name of medicine, designed to help her heal. We happened to catch her on an "up" day, no doubt thanks to steroids and the grace of God.

Math and science have helped Marge immensely. They have trained the doctors that are keeping her alive. Chemistry has given us the medicine they are using to curb the cancer in her body. Reading helped those doctors study medicine and access all the knowledge that has come before. Writing helped someone somewhere share the mathematical and scientific knowledge of the ages so that the doctors here in Plymouth can help extend Margie's life. We salute you, doctors and nurses. And we salute those classroom teachers who work tirelessly every day to help our children learn to read and write and do math in the first place. You are all amazing. Heroic.

But who is looking out for Margie's heart and soul? Anyone? Anyone? That would be us, the musicians. And we learned how to do it in school.  That's where we learned music, for free, taught by some teacher somewhere who understood that the ability to make intentional, beautiful sounds is critically important for the human condition.

Margie is setting a goal for herself. She wants to come to see us play on Dec. 20 at the Pilgrim Sands Hotel, wheelchair bedamned. She may feel well enough to come; she may not. There is an Everest of a chemo treatment between here and there, with her strength and her will as her able sherpas.

In the end neither math nor writing will save any of us, though they will most certainly keep us around longer. And when math and science must yield to nature's insistent march from ashes to ashes and dust to dust, what will be left?

Music. Music is what will lift us up now, and it is what will rock our souls gently to their final resting place, whenever that day comes.

Can your dentist do that?