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By Zach Bostic
Blissfully watching the Pep Rally a few weeks ago from my perch behind the Pep Band drum kit, I surveyed the gymnasium of scrambling athletes, announcing their season’s successes and goals. Meanwhile, I sat comfortably behind the drums, knowing that I have nobody to beat and nothing to prove.
Artists of every kind can find comfort in realizing that the greatest creators all started the same way: knowing nothing and learning. Each master starts as the apprentice; each professional as the amateur. Thus, I, along with many of my peers, can work towards improvement, without concerns of losing the game, the tournament, or even the competition. This is how beneficial music and the arts can be to people of all ages.
A study conducted by Drexel University shows that music therapy, as well as simply listening to music, can offer pain relief for cancer patients. According to the study, the patients’ quality of life improved with the addition of music therapy. With that in mind, music in general can easily improve everyone’s daily life. It provides a carefree outlet and can help decrease stress and increase general happiness. Famed writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks conducted a small study involving memory loss patients and music therapy. Sacks used music from the time of the patients’ youth in attempts to elicit the greatest reaction. Here, you can see how much the music had an impact on the elderly man, Henry. After listening to the music, Henry is able to freely answer questions and responds well during conversation, whereas before, his interactions were limited, almost non-existent. As demonstrated by the experiment and many others like it, your favorite song can fill you with joy at any moment.
Additionally, music is generally safer than most sports. My chances of breaking a leg on the football field will forever be greater than those of breaking a leg in a practice room. In August of 2017, Huffington Post released an article that details the dangers of playing football at any age for any duration of time. Displayed by the specific stories in the article, high school athletes can suffer from long-term brain injuries. The affliction is not limited to professional players. Thus, I would rather strengthen my cognition through music than debilitate it through contact sports like football, which is most commonly referenced in conversations about brain injuries.
Physical and mental ability, two equally important traits, can both be fostered in musical training. Any musician must develop specific skills and muscle memory in order to play their instrument with grace. The processes of practicing and learning are both mentally and physically intense, requiring repetition, discipline, and energy. Furthermore, musicians can excel in physical attributes not directly associated with playing their specific instrument. As shown by a University of Montreal study, musicians have statistically faster reaction times than non-musicians. Other studies of musicians have shown results including better long-term and working memory, and many health professionals believe that musicians are less susceptible to mental decline in their later years.
Music is one of the only activities that actively uses nearly the entire brain. This TED-Ed video demonstrates the research done on musicians and compares it to other activities. Overall, the combination of reading music, playing the instrument, and processing the sound creates a simultaneous use of the whole brain.
For many reasons, it is very important that the arts and arts education continue to receive funding, including at the governmental level. One reason, researched by a team at Northwestern University, is that music training, specifically rhythm, has a close link to language comprehension and learning in all academics. Students with previous music training often showed more brain activity in response to speech. Also, scientists believe that if taught the basics of music and its applications, students that struggle to read could become more focused and intuitive. Thus, cutting arts programs from public schools could result in decreased academic abilities for students that could benefit from arts and musical training to further their scholastic achievement. The Trump administration, in their budget plan from March, demonstrated an utter disregard for arts, proposing that the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities be eliminated entirely. In addition, they proposed cutting funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting entirely. It is estimated that since its start, Sesame Street, which aired on public television for decades before moving to HBO last year, has been viewed by close to 77 million American children, helping to foster basic skills and thinking for the early years of childhood. That kind of public, widespread positive impact should not be lost. Many artistic and creative programs that are at risk of losing funding.
Sports have their benefits. Exercise, increased hand-eye coordination (also key to musicians and artists), and team camaraderie are all positive results of participating in sports. But it is possible to find nearly all of those benefits in music as well. For those that say we may not get enough exercise, musicians that perform with larger instruments (i.e., drums) will routinely move heavy equipment. For any gig involving a drum set, I will, at a minimum, carry 50 pounds of hardware, which does not include the weight of any drums, cymbals and other accessories. Being a working musician can offer plenty of exercise. And, in a casual setting, musicians, particularly those in bands and ensembles, work together without any concerns of winning or losing.
Overall, the arts are a gateway for self-expression and creativity. One of the greatest parts of music comes from the communication that’s possible without words. While playing with any number of musicians, it is possible for the song, beat, or tempo to change completely without any words at all. Music offers a way of expressing internal emotion and feeling when words cannot suffice. As the famous jazz pianist Duke Ellington said, “You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.”