Music Therapy

Imagine you have been asked to present a statement to your local School Board in favor of retaining the high school’s performing arts programs, all threatened by budget cuts. What would you tell them? (This was from the Music School Application Essay, which I had to fill out to transfer to the Music School)

Kristina Roelefs was born on Christmas Day to parents who loved the arts – her mother was an actress and singer, and her father was a music professor. As a baby and toddler, not surprisingly, Kristina loved to “sing” along with her mother and would listen intently to her father’s cello playing. However, for some reason, Kristina would not talk. Her mother’s friend, a developmental pediatrician, made the disheartening diagnosis – autism, a disorder which made Kristina aloof to the world around her and caused her to lack communication skills. Kristina’s parents wanted to give her the best chance at a fulfilling life, though, so they reached out to her the only way they knew how – through music. Kristina proved to have a substantial gift for music, quickly picking up the cello and piano, and she also became involved in a local musical theatre group. Her talent attracted people to her, and she became more and more adept at communicating with them and forging friendships. This “therapy” served her so well that she is now a musical theatre major in college – and almost no one would be able to distinguish her as someone who as a child could not communicate.Such a dramatic transformation at the hands of musical training should be enough to make any school board think twice about cutting funding for the performing arts – but it should also be considered that musical education sharpens the minds of all children. It is not an accident that SAT scores are markedly higher among trained musicians than among teenagers at large, since music training has been shown to actually alter certain areas of the brain in violinists and violists. The area controlling left-hand dexterity is strikingly denser than normal; in musicians with a strong ear, an area behind the left ear controlling auditory processing is almost twice the normal size. Students who have demonstrated talent in music are also highly sought after by selective colleges – not only by music schools but by liberal arts colleges who recognize them as gifted and well-rounded people. Since elementary and secondary schools promise to help develop well-rounded individuals, then, it makes absolutely no sense to eliminate something that can contribute so valuably to their ideal.

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