Every time the Olympics roll around, my family and I love to watch the opening ceremonies. Each time, my husband will remark, "The Olympics are the greatest contributor to world peace." We smile and feel warm and fuzzy at the thought of so many people enjoying a single event. It's difficult to think of anything else that brings together so many different countries, races, religions, and political views. It's a marvelous spectacle.
And then I think, music has been connecting people for years. Centuries, really. Millennia. Heck, music is even doing that at the Olympics themselves. That swell of pride you feel when you hear your country's anthem? That's the effect of music. The anthem reminds you that you are connected to something larger than yourself. Music helps us to identify and strengthen communities.
Consider this quote: "Theorists in community music therapy discourse argue that music is an active social phenomenon that can be used to help create flourishing communities in which the diversity of individual difference is celebrated, and support is shared (Stige, Ansdell, Elefant, & Pavlicevic, 2010). This potential of music has long been evident in everyday uses of music, from the ritual singing of the Happy Birthday song, to the rousing chorus of fans at a soccer match, to swapping music playlists online across international borders; music is frequently shared by people in community" (read the full paper here).
I'm not suggesting that singing the Happy Birthday song at your nephew's fourth birthday party is on the same level as singing your the national anthem at the Olympics. But I am suggesting that if even singing a song together somewhat sporadically can strengthen a community's identity, attending a weekly group music class may be even more integral to a child who is starting to discover how they fit into the human collective.
There are many group activities available to children in East Toronto; karate, dance, art, gymnastics, and much more. By contrast, Suzuki group classes are not the kind of class where children show up and learn together, but produce individual projects. In group music lessons, most of the skills that students learn revolve around how to accomplish something together; how to listen together, watch together, play together, and how to produce a favourable result together. If you're thinking that team sports can do the same thing, think again. Although winning the game is clearly the result of a team's efforts, music has the added benefit of not having an opponent. Literally everyone involved in the process of making beautiful music wins; there are no losers, and no triumph over an adversary.
My previous posts on developing empathy and learning the value of hard work are both ways that music lessons will develop character. But these are smaller pieces of a large puzzle. Music lessons will build up the character of the individual musician. Group music classes build communities of these individuals by teaching them the value of working toward a common goal.
We all want a better world for our children, and we know that we must instill in them certain skills and beliefs in order to make this come to fruition. One tiny part of doing this is to give them the skills to work with others. From this, children will learn that something beautiful can be created when we all work together.
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.