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Friday, June 14, 2013

Music makes you musical

"I don't teach music because it makes you smart. I teach music because it makes you into a human being." That's the way music teacher Jeroen Schipper ends a recent blog entry. It's a charming piece of prose, in which he explains that he understands why music teachers keep hammering on about music's contribution to our IQ (firmly seated in the brain and observable by means of a brain scanner, as we now all know) but that  he is actually fed up a bit with all that.

I agree with him. And I would like to add that I am also not a fan of the newest fad, which is an old fad really: the claim that music, as an art subject, makes you creative - and creativity is what our society (and especially our economy) needs. Apart from the fact that music is so much more than just creativity, and that there is a lot of uncreative but nevertheless very worthwhile musicking going on in most human lives, I dislike the ugliness of the arguments around creativity because they are so intensely tied to thoughts about being a winner and not a looser, about economic growth rather than modesty, about wanting to be better, newer, more advanced and more innovative rather than about being simply happy. (Remember the Lisbon-agenda of the EU? "The most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy of the world.")

Ach, I know, I'm old-fashioned. But music might be more than yet another instrument to be in one of the world top-3s.

What I liked best about Jeroen's blog is his question why we shouldn't turn the question around. Why do we expect music to contribute to mathematical or linguistic abilities? Why don't we ask mathematics to contribute to the rhythmical abilities of children? Why don't we ask from English to contribute to a better understanding of pop music? We know the answer: because mathematics and English have an intrinsic value. So if we want to justify why we should teach music in schools, let's not talk about how music contributes to something else. Let's talk about the intrinsic value of music, about how music makes you more musical.

Jeroen argues for precisely that. He does so by saying that music is a unique means of communication which can convey things that in no other way can be communicated. I am not so sure if that's a good argument - I'm not sure if it holds, and I would like to keep the possibility open that with music you teach something that also can be taught by other means; why would that make music less worthwhile?

But I like Jeroen's expression that music makes you human. In a way this is of course also an example of instrumental reasoning - music is good for something else. But by adding just a word it loses its instrumentality.

Music is worthwhile because it makes you into a musical human being.

Problem solved.

1 comment:

  1. I feel this is a good addition to my earlier blog. Thank you Evert! I especially like the subtle touch at the end :-)