Music: Celebration of the Soul

Choir Flyer

Image Source: Promotional flyer, The Petaluma Chorale

This is a warning; I’m getting up on my soapbox in advocating the arts, especially music, in our schools.

Music has been a thread woven into the fabric of my soul. In early childhood, on Saturday mornings I eagerly opened my album of Prokovief’s picturesque score of Peter and the Wolf. It contained three 78 rpm records which I never tired of listening to with rapt attention. I believe it was narrated by Richard Hale. Then I’d turn to the major themes of famous composers, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, and the incomparable Beethoven. Later, I would sing along with Shirley Jones’ If I Loved You and You’ll Never Walk Alone and Doris Day’s Once I Had a Secret Love. In the following years, I turned to Julie Andrews’ My Fair Lady. I was thrilled by the dark tones and score to Three Penny Opera, and, of course, West Side Story.

In high school I was privileged to have been instructed by the master teacher, Mrs. Gerlach. I truly believe the combination of riding horses and singing in various choruses saved my life during those tumultuous years, made more difficult by the death of both my father and little brother in an airplane crash in 1955 just prior to my entering high school. Music has been a thread in my life ever since and has held me on its strands through the hills and valleys in my journey. Through the years I’ve sung in many church choirs and more recently in community choruses.

The other day I attended a performance of the Community Choral Festival which included six local community choruses. What warmed my heart most was seeing so many young people. Some looked like they were still in high school; others looked to be in their 20s. They were interspersed with a diversity of other generations. There were plenty of grey heads as well. It filled me with delight to think that they were volunteering their time to get together on a regular basis for nothing but the pure pleasure of making music. This is no small commitment. It takes hours and hours of practice to learn to blend the harmonies of Mata del Anima Sola (Tree of the Lonely Soul) by Antonio Estévez, or Baba Yetu (Swahili adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer) by Chris Kiagiri.

I ask myself the question, “Why is this musical endeavor so important to so many of us, especially young people who have no small amount of distractions that are competing for their attention?” And even more than that, “Why is it important to support a vibrant musical curriculum in our schools?”

Here are a few thoughts on this very important subject from some well-respected citizens:

“I would teach children music, physics and philosophy: but most importantly music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” —Plato

“[The theory of relativity] occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception… If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.” —Albert Einstein

“Artists are the antennae of the race. You can survive without the arts, but it might not be worth it.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A grounding in the arts will help our children to see; to bring a uniquely human perspective to science and technology. In short, it will help them as they grow smarter to also grow wiser.” —Robert E. Allen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AT&T Corporation

“Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and, by studying music in school, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective… Learning improves in school environments where there are comprehensive music and arts programs. They increase the ability of young people to do math. They increase the ability of young people to read. And most important of all, they’re a lot of fun.” —Bill Clinton, former President, United States of America

“Music is one way for young people to connect with themselves, but it is also a bridge for connecting with others. Through music, we can introduce children to the richness and diversity of the human family and to the myriad rhythms of life.” —Daniel A. Carp, Eastman Kodak Company Chairman and CEO

“If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing.” —J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan

My current chorus, The Petaluma Choral, is practicing for a performance entitled Say it with Music, a Tribute to Irving Berlin. As we were practicing the other day and belting out the rousing God Bless America, I found I had to stop singing and feel my immense grief that Michael, my dearest companion of 41 years, would not be in the audience. He had always enjoyed coming to my choral performances and I knew I would miss his smiling and encouraging face in the audience. Music can stir our memories and enhance our enjoyment of life in so many ways. I encourage us all to support our local schools in keeping their music curriculums both healthy and robust.

By Justine Willis Toms
April, 2013