Citibob: That was a moving response.
You expressed very well something that's bothered me for some time. Why is "arts education" (imagine this said with a lockjawed sneer..."AHHHHHHTS education") presumed to mean only 200 years of music, even less of dance, and mostly Shakespearean theater? (Visual art is a whole other discussion.)
I have two degrees in music performance and a 30-year career playing with such organizations as the NY Philharmonic. Yet I'm still mystified as to why "classical" music is often so much more revered than pop tunes. As far as I can tell from playing both (classical types end up, if we're lucky, backing up great pop artists too) it's the same old 12 tones and same harmonies.
I, too, got a lot out of singing my heart out in general music class back in North Carolina many years ago. But I'm not clear on whether folks consider that "arts education." Yet it's that kind of musical exposure that's especially valuable because it teaches you that anyone can participate in something that releases so much of your soul, whether you're good at it or not, or don't have the money to rent or study an instrument formally.
I found a statistic while researching my book that spoke volumes: the number of people who sing or play an instrument dropped by half between 1992-2002, according to the NEA, from around 7 million to only 3.5 million. I know from being a professional that some of my amateur musician friends feel so intimidated that they're not Yo Yo Ma that they are too embarrassed to play! That is a real tragedy.
I'm still working out why the outcry over arts education funding sometimes enrages me. I guess it's that I, and many of my other pro musician contemporaries (I am 44) have little skill or knowledge in humanities, math, and science. We can play scales though!
But seriously, I have to want to know even more about the study I mentioned in my last post, in which arts education is believed to show little effect on general academic achievement. I think that strategy *can* backfire, and that ultimately the authors of the study are right, that promoting early exposure and particiption in the arts for passion, pleasure, and emotional release is more productive than shoving Mozart down the kiddies' throats like spinach in a blind attempt to improve their SAT scores.
Here's a poignant scene. When I was at the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1975, we were bussed off to the SAT test, without any explanation of where we were going, or what it was. At this point, between 10th-12th grades, we had been required to take only two years of English, one semester of geometry, one semester of biology, and to tell someone we'd done some kind of solitary physical exercise in lieu of a gym class. (Yeah, right.) No chemistry, history, social studies, physics, etc.
Although we high schoolers routinely did drugs, had sex, and drank our adolescent brains out in the high school dorms virtually unsupervised, the school chose this occasion, the SAT, to provide us with a fussy grandma chaperone.
On the way back from the test, a ballerina leaned over to the grandma chaperone, and whispered furtively: "Why was that test called SAT? Because it's Saturday?" Does that tell you how academically advanced and intellectually balanced many people like me in "the AHHHHHHTS" can end up?
Think about that next time you hear the arts are so great for academic achievement.
Here's another example. While in high school at age 15 at the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1975, I met a 23-year-old black-Latino violinist who had dropped out of Juilliard after a failed suicide attempt. NCSA recruited him because he was an extraordinary talent -- concertmaster of their orchestra -- and as a bonus they could trot him out as a minority at a time of transition in southern civil rights. "Look at our zoo animal...we're so progressive!"
The fiddler, as a kid, had been somewhat interested in violin, just like kids get interested in soccer, ballet, and hey, illegal fireworks. But well-meaning teachers pushed, pushed, pushed, and before he knew it he was enrolled in Juilliard pre-college. "Isn't it NICE, how music saved this minority kid, etc." (I must add that his father beat him...it was not a good home situation, and he remains a friend today.)
Suffice it to say an identity crisis ensued. Didn't fit with the white elitist thing (full discosure: I am a white female elitist thing myself) and he was shunned by his African-American childhood friends. The end result...he became a raging alcoholic and smashed the precious French violin a well-meaning patron had donated to him, into smithereeens after bombing the Bach Chaconne in a master class.
But this is a dance page. Don't even get me started on the bulimia taking place on my dorm floor at NCSA in the late 1970s. I hope ballerinas aren't still doing what they did then, and I have no idea if they are. Certainly, nutritional information is much more available today.
These were VERY young girls, some as young as 12, plopped into a dormitory situation with lots of influences. And a stringent policy, at the time, of being pink-slipped for "fat conferences" with their instructors, who had the power to not invite them back for the following year. What you saw in the bathrooms on my hall, when I was 15, was indescribable, although I tried to do so when writing my book. We're talking ice cream, orange doritos, and Ex-Lax, if that means anything to you. And lots of new mop heads.
Anyway, I digress. Thanks again, Citibob, for your post, and I would love to hear about more people like you who have had positive, intimate experiences with the arts as kids.
--Author, "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" (Grove/Atlantic Press, July 2005)