For young students learning, or even struggling, to play an instrument, one music educator believes beginners should never be graded with an F for failure.
“Students eventually will get a little bit addicted to some level of improvement (through practice),” said Wendy Muston, a musician, music education advocate and board member with the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.
“And they will grow to like the feedback,” said the speaker at Monday’s annual meeting of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic at YES Cinema downtown. “They don’t get an F on any test. We simply teach them to keep going. It’s perseverance. It’s optimism.”
Muston, a part-time private music teacher, also is principal harpist with the Philharmonic and the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, and second harpist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She has performed or toured with major music acts such as the Moody Blues, Tony Bennett and Josh Groban.
She began playing the harp in her hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, after the school district placed a harp in every school in the late 1960s.
With the Philharmonic dedicating more than 20 percent of its $817,000 annual budget to music education, Muston could be viewed as preaching to the choir.
That includes David Bowden, the Philharmonic music director who regularly speaks to groups and organizations about how early music involvement makes young people better students and boosts their confidence.
But Muston added new twists to the message from her recent personal experience and reading background.
She highlighted poverty as one of the biggest current challenges affecting public education. In fact, she said science journalist’s Paul Tough’s latest book, “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why” shows that the “fight or flight” stress on students raised in poverty actually can alter a person’s DNA chemistry in the brain.
She mentioned that the Lawrence Township school district spent a half million dollars on musical instruments last year “so all of our children can have access to music education. They need that instrument to practice.
“But if I (as a parent) can’t afford enough food over the weekend for my child, then I certainly don’t have what it takes to … rent an instrument.”
Playing a musical instrument requires every major right and left brain function — logic, language, imagination, plus elements of science and math — listed by most brain experts, Muston said.
“And that’s not to mention the emotional and spiritual joy you experience when performing,” Muston said. “Children who play music at a young age have a stronger connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
“And that helps enhance their intellectual and emotional skills.”
Before finishing, Muston praised the Philharmonic’s educational programs, including the newest — the preschool-oriented First Steps In Music — for especially reaching economically disadvantaged youngsters.
Regarding music education, Margaret Powers, the Philharmonic’s executive director, praised Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. music teachers for their efforts with local students, and facilities such as local churches for making rehearsal space available.
One additional perspective on arts education and the arts in general came from Philharmonic board president Peter King. He quoted the late Cummins Inc. executive and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller as saying, “The arts are maybe the most civilizing influence among us” by “giving expression to truth.”
The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic on Monday:
- Praised Bob and Helen Haddad for gifting the orchestra’s current office space, ensuring the organization of a permanent home.
- Recognized retiring board members Mary Allard and Terry Trautman.
- Introduced the 2016-17 officers as Peter King, president; Mark Pillar, immediate past president; Barry Turner, vice president; Therese Copeland, secretary; and Joe Smith, treasurer.
- Introduced new board members Dale Guse, Tracy Haddad and Jerry Pennington.