By Joe Rector

I went to visit Farragut High School on Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago for a concert band festival. My brother Jim, who is helping the band in Lenoir City, asked me to drop by so the kids could see his twin. A prior engagement prevented me from staying to listen to the bands, but what once again became important was the fact that music is a vital component in the education of our children.

Instrumental music offers students the chance to belong to a group. It’s no different from a sports team or another school club. Band, as most of us call it, starts in fifth grade, or at least it did when I was a kid. In the blink of an eye, I became a member of an organization that was fun and demanding. In high school, freshmen band members are every bit as important as seniors. Unlike football, nobody sits on the sidelines and waits for a chance to participate.

All we hear now is how America lags behind in math and science. (I suppose that’s true, although I think our students’ scores would rise if our best tested against other countries’ best. Instead, we include all student scores.) Yes, we need to continue to push for excellence in those areas, but at the same time, we need to push for participation in music courses. The studies have been completed and announce that students who participate in band actually perform better than other students. Here’s just one finding:

“Students of the arts outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT according to reports by the College Entrance Board. (To the tune of 57 points higher on verbal and 41 on the math portion.)”

With that kind of information, parents who hope their children can pocket a scholarship or gain admission into some favorite university should insist that the young students join band.

Band teaches students how to become a team and how to compete. Summer band practices are every bit as demanding as football practice. Students pound the pavement for hours to perfect shows that they perform for home crowds and competition judges. Concert bands divide into smaller groups of musicians who play the same instruments and then return as one band to play beautiful music that is difficult to master. Earning a top rating for a performance on the field or on the stage is every bit as rewarding as winning a football game.

Perhaps the most important reason to include band in a high school curriculum is that if offers a break from the constant cry for better scores on standardized tests. Somehow, some way, education has lost sight of its purpose: to educate the whole person. Yes, we want our children to learn so that they are ready to enter a demanding work world. What has been forgotten is that life isn’t fulfilling when all it includes is work. Music offers an escape from the rat race. It appeals to the other sides of people. It expands horizons and helps to produce truly well-rounded individuals.

Congratulations to all the students who participated in the concert band festival. Each of you is a winner simply by learning to play an instrument and then taking the risk to perform for judges and audiences. I hope that the cry for more rigor will be ameliorated with the realization that instrumental music, as well as choral music and theater, are vital to complete the education of students. If you agree, make sure to let your school board representative know. Even a small loss of music  or those talented folks who teach it diminishes the education of students.