Thoughts on Music Education by Prin Dumas Sielski
When I was a little girl, I began playing by ear. By the time I was in preschool, I could “create” music that sounded tolerable. When my older brother gave up on organ lessons, my parents decided to hold off on sending me. This prompted me to study alone and by the time I was 9, I could play by ear. I had also taught myself some basic sight reading of notes. One night, while my parents were in the living room, I decided to start playing some songs I had made. My father thought it was my brother playing, but when it turned out to be me, he agreed with my mom about calling a private music teacher. Alfonso Veltri was my teacher, even after I landed my first job playing the piano at 15.
I value music education, because music is integral to who I am as a person. As a child, music was my comfort zone. I thought in music. I heard musical ideas constantly. I still hum all of the time. Musical castles in the cloud were my past time. People’s voices sparked fantasies of how they would sound if singing. Music drove me as a child. So, I was 9 when I began piano lessons, right? That’s 4th grade in my life. Up until 4th grade, I was a “C” average student. I was very intelligent (just ask my mom), but I disliked the discipline of learning in school. I didn’t connect with teachers. I just didn’t want to participate in the efforts of academic success. Funny enough, midway through my 4th grade, after a few months of piano lessons, I was transferred to the “Honors” group. That’s where I stayed as a straight “A” student until I graduated high school. Music connected me to my world and made everything else make sense.
So, that’s my background story in a nutshell.
For many parents of musicians, there is a hesitation to encourage a musical life. No one wants a child who will struggle to make a living or see dreams dashed. I was very lucky to have parents who didn’t fear seeing me fail, and in turn, I rarely did when it came to music. Year after year, I learned more and succeeded in working as a musician all the way through and after college. I landed my first classroom music teaching job before I graduated Fordham.
Music education, when done correctly, provides a balance between several extremes. I like to refer to it as a musical Yin and Yang. There is structure and creativity, practice and playing, math and abstract, fast and slow, high and low, etc…and to be a great musician, you have to find the balance in each of these polar extremes. It forces a focus and peace that is not often found in other studies or disciplines, but in music, it happens through an instrument.
I have taught many different age groups, from 2 to 52. Everyone learns differently. But, everyone learns…
If you’re not sure about piano lessons or the value of music in your child’s life, take a risk. You never know what will connect your child (or you) to the world. For me, it was music. For many of my students over the past 20 years, since 2000, it has been music also. I’ve seen math grades improve. I’ve seen social behaviors change. I’ve had shy musicians come out of the woodwork, empowered to perform. You simply do not know the power music may have in your life or in your child’s life until you let music into your home. In my work with students who learn with developmental disabilities, I’ve seen major progress and breakthroughs as well.
I believe in the power of music as an integral part of education. I lament the poor funding in schools and I’ve quit or bumped heads at several institutions that lack the ability to respect music as a school subject. There is much research on the matter, but the decline in music education continues. Music is necessary to everyone, even the future engineers and lawyers. And until you let music be a part of your life, you won’t know how music will help you. There is one thing for sure though – music will not hurt you. Love music and wait for it to love you back.