Thank You for the Music

Macklemore: The Town

Macklemore is a hip hop artist based in Seattle, and his lyrics are both inspirational and relevant to us living in Bellevue. Not only is his song “The Town” focused specifically about living in Seattle, but it talks about the music scene and how music helped him become who he is. Here are some excerpts:

Seattle-based rapper Macklemore representing our hometown

This is our scene
Our music, our movement, the history lives through us
I write to the beat and let life play the guitar strings

They trying to shut down the clubs that my city rocks
Now, Mr. Mayor, why would you enforce an ordinance?
Music, it saves lives, these kids out here are supporting it
And through the art form we’ve learned the importance of community
Truth to the youth so they know what’s up
Yup, and as a public school student
I learned from my teachers, but became through my music

I hope that, through the course of my blog, you have learned about the importance of music in school curriculums. I hope you encourage young students you know to pursue or at least try to pursue interest in music. I hope you become an advocate of music education, not only in the Bellevue School District, but in public schools nationwide as well.

Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, I know I have bombarded you with information about how great music education is; but how are we going to bring it back? I have drafted a sample course catalog we could use in the future.

  • Sixth Grade: Listening to Music. In this class, students will listen to different genres and time periods of music in order to train their ears to understand both the technical and lyrical aspect of music.
  • Seventh Grade: Music Theory. Students will learn about music terminology and the technique involved in playing music. This includes note reading, basic instrument information and understanding circle of fifths.
  • Eighth Grade: Musical Performance. Students will learn more about different instruments and pick one that appeals most to them. From here, they will learn how to play the instrument and put their note reading to use.
  • Ninth Grade: Open. Students now have the freedom to select one of many music class options, such as music producing, music history, music appreciation and more, as well as the standard offerings such as band, choir or orchestra.

The above classes would be taken for only one semester during the year. If a student is already taking music lessons from an independent music school, these classes can be waived. Of course, there is ample space for us to fine-tune this catalog.

Music is important. Music is real. I hope you agree and will help me bring music back.


This is Not a Competition…

Radiohead: Paranoid Android

Throughout the course of this blog, I have constantly reiterated how simple music is to grasp, yet how beneficial it is in the long run. However, in order to truly master music, one must be extremely dedicated and appreciate the complexity that music can exhibit. Just listen to that Radiohead song. As a a forum commenter so nicely stated:

Paranoid Android…has all the characteristics of a great Radiohead song: Ambitious in scope and execution, complex rhythms, superbly constructed harmonies and melodies, chord changes which smack you round the face, Thom’s incredible voice used to it’s full capacity, Johnny’s guitar work, a depressing bit (obviously), and most importantly, each member of the band contributing an important role to the shape of the song.

Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Johnny Greenwood's equipment setup. Looks complicated.

This statement is so true on so many levels, and shows the depth of this song in particular. Following my mantra of “simple skills for lifetime benefits,” can’t we agree that complex skills will only add even further benefits to one’s life?

Being able to not only appreciate but understand the complexity that lies in music is an acquired skill, and this can be taught in the school curriculum. Tom Horne, Arizona’s state superintendent of public education, notes: “If they’re worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less. There’s lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests.”

Tom Horne is a strong advocate of music education: he has increased standards for arts education, appointed an arts specialist in the state Department of Education and steered $4 million in federal funds under No Child Left Behind to support arts integration in schools throughout the state. Let me restate that he is a superintendent…do you see where I’m going here?

Tom Horne is doing music education correctly. He is passionate about this, and Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, I believe you should be as well. There are schools out there that are actively promoting music education, and we could be on that list. Tom Horne is getting praise and recognition, and it’s no doubt the students under his curriculum are going to have a distinct advantage over students without music education. Considering all five of the Bellevue School District’s high schools are on Newsweek’s top 100 high schools, don’t you think we should uphold the standard expected from us? Don’t you think music education is going to help us?

I’ll Never Write a Song; Won’t Even Sing Along

Lady GaGa: Speechless (Live)

Say what you will about Lady GaGa, but it’s undeniable that she’s an incredibly talented singer, pianist and lyricist. She has completely dedicated her life to her music and worked hard every day to climb to the status she is at now. Her high school (Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York, or CSHNYC) undoubtedly helped pave the way toward her future: she claims she was an active in her school musicals and the school houses three performance spaces. The school even states that “music…has always been a dynamic component of the educational experience.”

Newport High School Jazz Festival rehearsal

That alone can let us safely assume that music probably will not be cut out of their budget any time soon.

Granted, CSHNYC is a private school, let alone in New York City. This doesn’t mean the Bellevue School District can’t follow suit: I know so many students and alumni who love and embrace music, but have not been given the proper attention to express their passion at school. I understand that budget cuts are always going to be there, and music seems like the obvious choice: last year there was even serious consideration of taking music and art classes out of elementary school. This should not–no, it cannot happen. In all of my previous posts, I have laid out many benefits that come from music education. I don’t think we can afford to cut music out of our curriculum; we need to bring it back!

There are other things we can do to reduce our costs. The Seattle Times lays out the potential cuts that could go into effect, and all of them seem plausible and not nearly as negatively impacting as cutting music education out. The potential cuts are as follows:

  • Eliminating high school wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and golf
  • Cutting elementary school librarians
  • Lowering temperature in classrooms during the winter
  • Increasing class size
  • Eliminating seventh period in middle school

Of course, I don’t think all of the above cuts are good ideas (cutting out four sports? Lowering the temperature in classrooms? Isn’t that unhealthy?). But I do think this list is just the beginning of a potentially longer list of minuscule changes that can help us not only save money, but keep music education alive. Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, don’t you see all the benefits of music education and all the downfalls of taking music education out? We can’t allow children to be less exposed to music than they already are. Keep music in our elementary schools and require it in our middle and high schools. Lets make sure they do write a song, sing along and fully embrace music.

Let’s Have Some Fun, This Beat is Sick

Daft Punk: Around the World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Live)

Boys Noize: & Down

Sure, music has a lot of benefits for advancing in one’s educational career, becoming a more well-rounded person and overall improvement of the brain. But what about the fun aspect of music?

Lets be honest: children and especially teenagers usually won’t willingly do something unless they perceive it to be fun in some sense. When students think of “music education,” more often times than not, they will envision learning about classical music and latin terminology that is hardly intelligible. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way: music education can be fun and educational.

Currently, the top five songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 are as follows:
1. Lady GaGa: Born This Way
2. Katy Perry (Featuring Kanye West): E.T.
3. Rihanna: S&M
4. Cee-Lo Green: F*** You
5. Black Eyed Peas: Just Can’t Get Enough

Daft Punk

Of those five songs, four of them are heavily inspired by dubstep and electronic music. This is where my song choices come into play. Daft Punk and Boys Noize are both well renowned electronic artists and have been sampled by many Top 40 artists such as Kanye West, Estelle, and Swizz Beatz. But how does sampling work? What goes into recording songs? How can one distinguish between different producers?

This is the fun part of music that can be brought into the Bellevue School District.

Being informed about music terminology and music theory is important, no doubt. But there are aspects of music that can be both informative and exciting for students. If we require music in our school curriculum, we can include classes such as music history, music producing and listening to music, along with the current classes we offer now (band, choir and orchestra.) These classes would not only be enticing to students, but it would provide them with new insight regarding music and not only how relevant it is in their lives, but how important it is to know.

Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, could you imagine what it would be like exposing students to these different aspects of music? I know that if these classes were to go into effect, most students would actually want to go to school. How’s that for positive education?

Don’t You Think We Should Have Learned Somehow?

John Mayer: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

John Mayer

John Mayer is pretty controversial these days. The tabloids and press are continually following him about his latest hookups and there have been some controversial statements posted on his Twitter; My fellow Internet Communications colleague Maddison has even dedicated her blog to persuade John Mayer to apologize to women everywhere. But something that the media doesn’t focus on in regards to John is the fact that he is a VH1 Save the Music Ambassador.

What does this mean? Simply put, he is advocating to provide and develop long-term musical education programs for students everywhere, regardless of the financial situation. This includes “funding certified music teachers’ salaries, providing maintenance and supplies, and scheduling instrumental music classes during the school day.”

Quite possibly the biggest barrier we have that is keeping us from providing music education to our students is the looming reality of budget cuts. Luckily, there is a possible solution: working with VH1 Save the Music Foundation to ensure that our students have a wholesome and complete education. The children from sixth to ninth grade are indirectly suffering from the lack of musical instruments and education in their lives, and we have the chance to not only teach them about music, but show them how important it truly is.

VH1 isn’t the only company to advocate for music education: The National Association for Music Education has declared March as “Music in our Schools March (MIOSM)”–in other words, March is the time to raise awareness about the importance of music education. Artists such as Pat Benatar, Harry Connick, Jr., BoysII Men and Tim McGraw attended MIOSM to encourage school music programs and create PSAs for the cause. With such powerful advocates and testimonials, I can only hope that we can bring music into the middle school and high school era of our students’ lives.

Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, I understand that budget cuts are extremely difficult to work around. I understand that there are a multitude of other extracurriculars that are equally yearning for your attention. But VH1, the National Association for Music Education and I, a Bellevue School District alum and music enthusiast, all have valid proof that music needs to be required in the school curriculum and deserves to be spared in budget cuts.

Simple Skills for Lifetime Benefits

Michael Henry & Justin Robinett: Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley cover)

Michael Henry & Justin Robinett, the YouTube sensations

Michael Henry and Justin Robinett are two ordinary college students who just happen to like recording themselves playing the piano, harmonizing with each other and posting the videos on YouTube. First of all, it must have been a stroke of luck that these two met and became good enough friends to sing together. Secondly, let me just say that from personal experience, it’s pretty tricky playing an instrument and singing at the same time. Separately, I’m fairly decent at these two activities. But when I put the two together, it’s a beautiful disaster. The two are completely out of sync: my voice goes all wonky and I start hitting keys on the piano for the sake of making noise.

If only I had been trained to play and sing at the same time!

It takes a great amount of skill to be able to play and sing simultaneously. Some people are just born with the ability, but others–like myself–have to learn how to get their brain to multitask. Music is an incredible way to encourage brain stimulation and growth, whether it be through listening to it, reading it or playing/singing it. On a scientific level, music has been proven to allow the brain to handle the expansion and growth of higher cognitive processes that is usually not accessed otherwise. But what does this mean in everyday terms, especially in regards to music education?

Piano sheet music

Arithmetic Ability & Science Skills. In order to succeed in our fast-paced, technology-driven world, we must have logical and arithmetical skills, as well as spatial reasoning skills, and music can help a great deal. Music “has been shown to increase [a baby’s] brain growth extensively, resulting in improved skills in arithmetic.”

Reading. Playing music almost requires keen memorization skills, and this skill can be applied to everyday life in regards to reading and writing. Furthermore, knowing how to read music can help children and students comprehend the most minuscule details.

Community Skills. At the root of it all, music gives children a commonality, and helps students come together to bond over something they all share. It can help improve self-esteem, serve as an emotional outlet, and just give children a goal to work toward.

These are basic skills that can greatly benefit children and students alike. Taking music lessons, partaking in choir or creatively writing lyrics are all classes that can be brought into the school system. Why should we force parents to find external music teachers when the music can be brought to their children at school every day? Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, I promise these classes will not be a mistake. Music classes will better prepare the students for their future by exercising their brain in a healthy yet creative way.

Side note: If you liked Michael Henry and Justin Robinett’s cover of “Hallelujah,” please check out all of their other videos. The videos are actually pretty hilarious (you’ll see why,) and their song selections are perfect. They’re extremely talented guys, so I encourage you to look them up!

Swim for the Music that Saves You

Jack’s Mannequin: There, There Katie

Andrew McMahon

Meet Andrew McMahon. He is a 28-year old singer-songwriter, perhaps best known as the frontman for two bands: Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. In June 2005, Andrew was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a disease that he would go on to document on video as it slowly consumed his life. Throughout his battle, while most of his complaints were about the pain, lack of strength and loss of hair, there was a fourth subject that consistently came up: his inability to play music.

Regardless of his condition, Andrew continued to write music, and would work his way to a piano whenever he had the strength to do so. While his family, friends and girlfriend were his physical support systems, Andrew turned to music when he needed an emotional, truly personal release.

In December of 2005, Andrew played his first live show after a six-month hiatus. By this time, he had received a stem cell transplant from his sister, Katie, that would ultimately save his life. In November 2009, Andrew released his documentary, entitled “Dear Jack.”

Andrew is the perfect example of how music can help you, not only in school and society as mentioned in my previous post, but truly in life. When his family had to go home from the hospital at night, Andrew was alone, and his only outlet was music, both listening to it and writing it. Andrew wrote “There, There Katie” (above) for his sister regarding the stem cell transplant, and the lyrics are truly inspiring, sad and meaningful. Another song Andrew wrote, entitled “Swim,” speaks about trying to get through the tough times, for the sake of your loved ones and, of course, music:

You’ve got to swim; swim for your life
Swim for the music that saves you
When you’re not so sure you’ll survive

"Dear Jack" cover art

I honestly believe that one of the biggest contributors to Andrew regaining his health was his passion and love for music. It was the ultimate outlet for him–he wrote things in songs that he couldn’t outright say, and it helped him release the negativity in his body in a healthy way.

Now, Andrew is happy and healthy, about to release his third Jack’s Mannequin album,  and in the middle of a nationwide tour. There have been multiple cases of post traumatic stress disorder after life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, and if Andrew hadn’t had music as a constant positive reinforcer, who knows what could have happened after he entered remission.

At the end of the day, music is an incredibly simple concept to grasp. Playing, writing and listening to music is therapeutic; Why not start this therapy in school? Students may not know it, but understanding music could potentially help, heal or even save their lives some day. Dr. Amalia Cudeiro, lets help the students in our school district help themselves through music.

I strongly encourage anyone who is reading this to watch Andrew’s documentary. It is a raw piece of work that shows the unglorified disease that is leukemia, and how it can shrivel someone into a shell of who he used to be. But it also is a beautiful depiction of triumph, love and the importance of music in someone’s life.

Click here for more information about “Dear Jack.”
Click here for more information about music healing.