The cost of quality

Over the weekend, we had the wonderful experience of attending the All-State East Orchestra performance.  Directed by professor Ronald Vernon of the University of Mississippi, All-East is an opportunity for the best orchestra students all over East Tennessee (both public and private schools) to practice and play together for three intense days, culminating in a concert.

Entrance was by audition, with only a small fraction of those trying out being accepted.

Gamma told me, with great pride, that half of the violas were from Oak Ridge High School.  I ran the numbers, and she’s right: six of the dozen violas were ours.  Overall, more than a quarter of the All-East Orchestra were from Oak Ridge, with a sizable number of the others coming from exclusive private schools like Baylor and McCallie in Chattanooga, or magnet schools like Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, or Center for the Creative Arts (also Chattanooga).

Oak Ridge’s orchestra program, unlike most others, takes all students — no audition, no private lessons required.  That we are able to succeed in such a competitive environment is amazing, but part of the secret to our success is that we, unlike most others, begin orchestra classes in fourth grade.

Unfortunately, our fourth grade strings program is put at risk every few years, due to time and budget constraints.  The reality is, it’s not really budgetary, because the way it’s structured, the program only costs about $20k per year.  The real cost is in the time set aside, and apparently, some of the elementary principals would like to use the time for other purposes.

That’s a grave mistake, in my opinion.  There’s a great deal of research out there demonstrating the fact that early music instruction (actually reading and learning to play written notes) helps develop additional neural pathways that enhance other "academic" learning, such as mathematics, literary expression, spatial reasoning and critical thinking.

So, when the discussion next arises (I expect it this year) about whether to keep our fourth-grade strings program intact, remember this: we have a record of success in doing it this way, both musically and academically.

3 Responses to “The cost of quality”

  1. on 09 Feb 2009 at 8:40 am girlfriend

    IMHO to be educated is not only book smarts but to be well rounded. The arts round it out. To eliminate any of the arts would be doing an injustice to our students. Children need to be exposed to all at a young age, sports, arts, dancing, reading, book smarts etc. etc. etc. As they mature then choices can be made as to the areas they excel in.

  2. on 09 Feb 2009 at 10:11 pm Joel

    Gotta agree with both of you. As both a professional musician and a professional scientist (though most of my income comes from the latter), my experience is that creactivity and self-discipline are enriched by both activities.

  3. on 10 Feb 2009 at 9:14 am Joel

    . . . including creative spellings of ‘creativity,’ it seems. Not enough self-discipline to proof my own posts.

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