I just finished reading Robert Sternberg's article in the Washington Post called "College Admissions, beyond the No. 2 Pencil." In it, he discusses how colleges could improve their selection process by looking beyond SAT's and high school grades. As a professional musician and music teacher, I was thrilled to see that he was advocating that schools look for qualities that musical training nurtures in children.
As a bit of background info., in 1997, Dr. Steinberg proposed a theory of "successful intelligence, based on the idea that people are meaningfully intelligent only to the extent that they can formulate and achieve their goals by synthesizing their creative, analytical and practical skills and their wisdom. People need creative skills to generate new ideas, analytical skills to determine if they are good ideas, practical skills to implement their ideas and wisdom to ensure that their ideas help achieve a common good." During his tenure as dean of the college of Arts and Sciences at Tufts Univ., he added optional questions to admissions applications that "were designed to assess creative, analytical and practical skills and general wisdom." Using well trained adjudicators and "well-developed scoring rubrics," he has found that these types of questions (like "What if the Nazi's had won WW2?) "helped forcast which students would shine as active citizens and leaders on campus and virtually eliminated the admissions edge enjoyed by some ethnic groups."
Even though I always assert that the primary reason for a strong arts education has to do with esoteric notions like "enhancing the quality and meaning and life", I still will speak out on the intellectual benefits, if it helps people eventually arrive at a higher level of consciousness regarding the need for classical music in the lives of children. (As an interesting side note, I just want to say that I have never seen any professional classical musician or music teacher reading or even discussing Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life." We would be more likely to read something called "My Life is so filled with Purpose, I need 40 hour days.")
I ask you, what could be better than the consistent study of music during the course of childhood to develop the "beyond the grades and test scores" qualities that our society needs? Science has proven that the corpus callosum is actually 15 percent larger in adults who started music lessons before the age of eight than in those who started later. In other words, in the brains of these children the right side of the brain (creative) has better communication with the left side (analytical) and vice versa. For a great book that goes into much more detail, but is still comprehensible to the non-scientist, try Robert Jourdain's "Music, the Brain and Ecstacy."
Musicians must constantly utilize creative thinking, (how should I shape the phrase, what is the feeling of this music), analytical thinking (what key is this piece in, how many quarter notes are in a whole note), practical skills (tuning the instrument, moving fingers or breathing correctly), and general wisdom (Bach was born in 1685 and wrote during the Baroque era). Better yet, musicians are using these aspects of the mind simultaneously and interdependently.
If you have any doubt that music builds the mind and can change the world, please read Shinichi Suzuki's autobiography called "Nurtured by Love" In this book, Suzuki tells the story of a dinner party he attended in Germany where he had a conversation with Albert Einstein. Einstein told Dr. Suzuki, that he believed that his study of the violin trained his mind in a way that allowed him to discover the theory of relativity.
Meanwhile, college bound high school students, be sure to highlight your musical training on your college applications.
Ms. Freeman is very active as a performer, teacher and entrepreneur. She created and directed a very successful Suzuki string program at the first charter school in the state of Maryland, the Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School, from 2004-2011. She is also the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center which is located in Frederick and Mount Airy Maryland and a member of the violin/viola faculty at Peabody Institute in the Preparatory Division. In addition to her administrative and teaching positions, she is the principal viola for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a member of the National Philharmonic. Ms. Freeman has had several articles published in the American Suzuki Journal.
Ms. Freeman is also the founder and CEO of Molto Legato LLC, a new media company for the classical music industry. . Molto Legato has a video division that created a DVD series that violin students use at home to help with practice as well as documentaries like "What is a Suzuki Festival," "Suzuki Founders in the US" and an interview with Suzuki patriarch, John Kendall. These documentaries and many masterclasses can be found exclusively on www.ClassicalMusicCity.com