December 11, 2014: Bandorama and school music funding

December 11, 2014: Belmont Citizen-Herald

This past Monday night, nearly 500 students of the Belmont Public Schools gathered to make music at Belmont’s 43rd annual Bandorama. It was such a pleasure to again see Belmont’s kids collectively demonstrating their math and science skills.

Music, of course, is more than artistic expression.  Music is one of the four subjects that comprise the quadrivium, that group of disciplines (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) that has, since Plato’s time, allowed scholars to describe the physical world.  From Aristotle, through Euclid, to today’s Belmont public schools, the quadrivium has been taught.

Belmont’s music program has long been one reason that our schools are held in such high esteem.  And though our daughter graduated from BHS several years ago, my wife and I still take great pride in watching our community’s students progress in their ability to make harmonies and rhythms, from elementary school, to middle school, on through high school.

We know today that music education has a broad, positive impact on the overall education of our kids.  The Scientific American reported, not long ago, that “music lessons can produce profound and lasting changes that enhance the general ability to learn.”  Instrument training in particular, the Scientific American said, makes it “easier to stay focused when absorbing other subjects, from literature to tensor calculus.”

One study done at the University of California—Irvine found that music uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, science and engineering.  A profile of college bound students by the College Entrance Examination Board reported that “students participating in music education scored higher on the SATs than students with no art participation.”

An even more recent study looked at scores from almost 7,000 students at three grade levels (5, 8 and 11), finding “significantly higher scores. . .for students involved with music compared with students not involved with music.”

Bandorama, in other words, is not just a demonstration of Belmont’s commitment to aesthetic expression by our students. It is also a commitment to fundamental science, technology, engineering and math education.

Despite its importance, I worry that music education in Belmont may be incrementally eroded over time, both through a narrowing of classroom and extracurricular offerings and through the erection of participation barriers such as high activity fees.

I don’t intend, however, for this discussion simply to be a plug for full-funding of music education.  Some people may instead feel that there should be more AP classes, while others may believe that more language options should be available.  Yet others may believe that the schools should receive less money, with those dollars instead being spent on road and sidewalk repair.

Belmont will soon enter what is known as “budget season” within Town government.  Lasting through Town Meeting in May, Town officials will devote countless hours to deciding how financial resources will be raised and allocated among community priorities.

Starting in weeks, not months, in other words, policymakers will begin discussing which priorities will be funded in the coming fiscal year.  In addition, Town Meeting nomination papers will soon become available for persons wanting to be active participants in, not merely observers of, the decisionmaking about which town and school services get funded.  And it is never too soon to begin talking with family, friends, neighbors, parents of classmates, and others about how you believe Belmont should generate and distribute its financial resources.

Certainly, we should enjoy our community’s Bandorama simply for what it is.  However, Bandorama is, also, a cogent reminder of the need to take those individual and collective actions required to ensure that Belmont continues to provide superb education in all its aspects.

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