How should Minn. honor Prince? Fund music education

Minnesota could make purple its official state color to honor the memory of Prince. It could name a new transit line the “purple line.” It could find a street somewhere and call it Prince Street.

Here’s another idea: It could better support music in public schools.

For a generation now, music has been sacrificed at the altar of sports and other activities, even though there’s ample evidence that music education instills a better math ability.

Writing in an op-ed on the Star Tribune today, Derek Otte, of Minneapolis, suggests we reflect on what music means to a community.

Music is powerful. It has the scientifically proven ability to ease pain, reduce stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and elevate mood, and it helps manage stress and anxiety. It can even improve cognitive performance.

In an Atlantic article, “Using Music to Close the Academic Gap,” author Lori Miller Kase discusses many ongoing longitudinal studies with children from lower-income backgrounds that are tracking the academic benefits of music education. Preliminary findings reveal that learning to play an instrument can have a dramatically positive effect on a child’s future academic trajectory.

Learning to make music strengthens an individual’s auditory working memory, which makes it easier to pay attention in class. Strengthening the brain’s encoding of timbre, pitch and timing also strengthens one’s ability to interpret speech. Research also has found that those skilled in rhythm also tend to be better readers.

Increasing a child’s exposure to and participation in music has so many benefits. Sadly, struggling schools are apt to dissolve or cut back their music programs, as the more basic needs of the children overshadow what’s seen as a luxury.

Struggling schools that do offer music programs might not have the resources to effectively engage the children, as they’re spread thin and families may not be able to afford instruments or private lessons. Unfortunately, in these scenarios, the children who would most benefit from music instruction are often denied access.

It’s unlikely Otte’s call will be heeded. The media’s coverage of Prince is moving into its oh-so-predictable tabloid-journalism phase, politicians are quicker to embrace empty symbolism than lasting impacts, and, as reported this week, parents are reluctant to support music education because they don’t understand how it enhances a child’s career prospects.

Yesterday, Herbie Hancock joined educators and researchers in Washington to urge officials to integrate music, math, and computer science.

“It goes across language barriers, cultures and achievement barriers and offers the opportunity to engage a very diverse set of students,” Susan Courey, a professor of special education at San Francisco State University, said. In a small study, students who received the music lesson scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test than those who learned with the standard curriculum. “They should be taught together.”

“If a student can clap about a beat based on a time signature, well aren’t they adding and subtracting fractions based on music notation?” Courey said. “We have to think differently.”

As hard as learning to read notes can be, thinking differently is much harder for us.

  • Nathan

    Couldn’t agree more. For me music ed. started in fourth grade with concert band and provided a school activity that I was able to participate in that wasn’t sports. I was a terrible athlete, but a passable musician, and it was something that I was able to enjoy and actually contribute to. My best man at my wedding was the guy who sat next to me in the trombone section for four years of high school, and I’m still good friends with several other guys from band. I took a lot away from my music education experience, including the importance of practice, patience, and persistence. And like an experience being part of a great and high-performing team, when our band was really in sync with our conductor, each other and the audience, the experience of performing was awesome.

    • crystals

      I married the guy I sat next to in 9th grade band!

      • Khatti

        I’m having a 1950’s moment here….

  • PaulJ

    I like the ‘combining music and math’ idea. If musical variables (of which there are many) were used in math problems; over the k-12 time frame music would be learned by osmosis.

  • >>It could find a street somewhere and call it Prince Street.<<

    Of course, there already IS a "Prince Street" – It goes under Hwy 52 just south of CHS Field not more than 1 mile from MPR studios.


  • kennedy

    In my admittedly unscientific observation there seems to be an education achievement gap between students involved in music and those that aren’t. It would be interesting to get some data on that. Maybe the positive effect of music participation could be a tool to help overcome other achievement gaps…

    • Peter Tobias

      We have to be careful though not to assume causation from correlation. It could be that wealthier parents want their children to make music and have the means to pay for it and that they give their children many other advantages, too.

  • Gary F

    I’m going down to Alphabet Street.

    • Xerophyte

      I would actually prefer an Alphabet Street to Prince St. — it would be more distinctive. Tons of cities have a Prince St for reasons that have nothing to do with our Prince.

      • St. Paul for instance (Prince Street is just north of Shepard Road and under Hwy 52 bridge)

        • Elsa1965

          Purple Parkway

  • ec99

    Music was a component of the Medieval Quadrivium, a core part of university education. Now, however, education is perceived as job training. Note that when universities eliminate disciplines, it’s the Liberal and Fine Arts that go. Coincidently, the University of North Dakota has axed its Music Therapy program as a means of balancing its budget. Of course, administrators and hockey stay.

    • Kassie

      I had to take music to graduate from college. Quickly looking at my small, public college’s General Education requirements, they are still required one fine arts class and one performance class. I don’t know if Intro to Piano and that weird Political Theater class I took really made much difference in enhancing my life, but they were just as useful in my career as my Marxism class or my Cuban History class.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      Interestingly for those looking at the association of music and math the Quadrivium, which dates from Plato, contains arithmetic, geometry, music (specifically harmony) and astronomy. All of the subjects relate to numbers. In the same order as presented basic numbers, numbers in the world, numbers in sound, and numbers in space. So the connection between numbers and music has been recognized for very long time. What we have lost in our move to a more “practical” education are the “liberal arts” while we focus too much on the “practical arts”.

  • MrE85

    Are there any sure votes in funding school music programs? Election year.

  • Jeff C.

    Think about how much brain activity is going on when someone is playing a violin….They are thinking about their left-hand fingers and making sure they are both in the right place on the violin neck and pressing down on the right string in the right way. The right hand is holding the bow the right way. The right arm is moving them bow. The eyes are looking at the music. The eyes are also looking at the conductor. The ears are listening to the violin note. The ears are also listening to the other musicians. There is so much brain activity going on! Music-induced Increased brain activity in children helps them learn so many more things than just music. Music education should be a core subject.

  • Al

    For those who say music is a waste and won’t pay the bills: Performing funded my graduate degree in public health. So, thanks, music.

  • Nikki Navratil

    Thank you thank you thank you for posting this, Mr. Collins. As a musician and music educator, this is very near and dear to my heart. I go back and forth between feeling heart broken and EXTREMELY ANGRY that there are students in Minnesota who do not get the opportunity to study music during their school day. As a state, are we even aware of which schools have music classes and which do not? What action can we take to ensure that every single child in Minnesota gets the chance to study music in school?

  • Children who can’t keep a steady beat often struggle with reading. Research shows that making music, moving, and creative play enable brains to better acquire language, read, compute, plan, create and focus. Neuroscientists Dr. Nina Kraus (sound processing), Dr. Adele Diamond (executive function), and Dr. Usha Goswami (dyslexia) are calling for schools to get students singing, moving and playing daily. Let’s stop using instruction that isn’t working for thousands of MN children, and start developing new practices. Here are two:
    1) The Rock ‘n’ Read Project (nonprofit) is helping children read at grade level through singing with software
    2) Minneapolis Public Schools teachers who are singing and playing singing games with their students while practicing reading and math skills have found dramatic boosts in letter sound acquisition, sight word retention, fluency, and multiplication facts retention. See APC pages on Using brain-enabling instruction is the key to closing the achievement gap!

  • Peter Tobias

    State color purple, Prince street, and the purple LRT line are all good and cheap ideas. Music in public schools is also good, but not cheap – I don’t know why the article compares these ideas with each other.
    . . . Better music in public schools has to stand on its own feet. Prince may serve as a example of the positive influences of more music, but we need other arguments to convince lawmakers, better math through music, cheaper lifting of school spirit than yet another sports stadium, etc.

    • Knute

      //I don’t know why the article compares these ideas with each other.

      The article doesn’t compare the ideas. It just lists them.

    • Jack

      Music in the schools is an investment in our youth. It keeps them engaged in a healthy activity – especially for those that have summer music programs.

      It is cheaper to pay for music education than for incarceration and is far better for society.

      Look at programs that are being run in New Orleans to give kids a healthy outlet for expression. One is “The Roots of Music”.

  • MrE85

    What better way to honor a self-taught musician who wasn’t very interested in school, besides playing basketball.

    • Jeff C.

      Exactly. Make music education more accessible and see what brilliance it fosters. Who knows how many kids didn’t become something close to what Prince became because they didn’t have someone encouraging them to explore their innate gifts and talents like Price did. He had more drive than almost anyone else around which is why he got to where he did. But that’s not to say that others couldn’t if we could remove some of the barriers that are preventing them from getting started.

    • Peter Tobias

      Are you speaking about Prince? The stories published after his death showed him very interested in school, more precisely interested in music and the practice room at school. Sometimes just providing opportunity by providing a local and instruments gives great results, and pushing it onto students in class is not necessary.

  • Khatti

    I have an ignorant hick question: is there an arts high school anywhere in the Metro?

    • Jon E.

      There are a few:
      -Perpich Center for Arts Education is in Golden Valley just South of Theo Wirth Parkway. It is an audition/portfolio admissions based public school that serves all of Minnesota. They have dorms for students outside a certain distance.
      -High School for Recording Arts is on University Ave in St. Paul
      -Main Street School of Performing Arts is a charter school in Hopkins MN
      -Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists is also a charter school and located in St. Paul
      -Creative Arts Secondary School is part of Saint Paul Public Schools and is in downtown St. Paul

  • Paul Conklin

    Meredith Wilson, who wrote the Music Man, grew up in Mason City Iowa. When my wife was in school there, every student had a chance to play any instrument they wanted, thanks to Meredith Wilson. A Prince music fund to support music education? I’m in!

  • lindblomeagles

    Bob, you did it again. You came up with a fantastic idea and information to boot. Everybody is not going to be a sports star, and kids NEED more intellectual and artistic outlets when they aren’t interested in sports. Musicians (and dancers) typically have to count in order to stay on top of the performance. Musicians (and dancers) also have to create something new and different every now and then, and COMMUNICATE that difference to band mates (and dance partners) and the audience. I think the American society understands that all students should be ready to graduate high school and produce in college and the world of work. But, does everything have to be test, test, test, test? Does everyone have to study for a bean counting career in corporate America? When is too much testing, too much. And the same questions could be directed at sports as well. Does every school (see Humboldt) have to have a football team? Does every student have to prepare for the pros? When is sports too much?

  • Leslie

    We say this after the death of every musician. We talk about gun control after every school shooting. We talk about bullying after every suicide.

    Save it.

    I handed back state test scores today to a kid who tearfully asked if he will lose electives next year because of his low test scores. He will and none of you will do a goddamned thing to stop it.

    Spare me the think pieces, the memes, and pithy Facebook posts. They are just another reminder that of how very little any of you will do.

    • You don’t sound like a very inspired teacher.

      • Leslie

        I know. “Good teachers” are quiet, compliant, long suffering, and don’t ruffle feathers. We are supposed to take a bullet for our kids, but never call out a truth that might make someone uncomfortable.

        I am inspired enough by my students that I am over being patted on the head, given awards, and quickly hushed up when I say sonething honest. Playing nice and cheery isn’t working.

        Would a good teacher sit by and let this happen? What’s inspirational about a teacher who keeps quiet when their kids deserve better? What do we need to do to get past plattitudes to some real action?

        I don’t care what kind of teacher you think I am. Just follow through with more than talk.

        • wjc

          What are your suggestions for what we should be doing?

        • Jack

          I am a former post secondary business teacher. I fully believe in supporting the arts as I see what it can do for students starting in elementary school. It has a tie to math scores and I would argue is a second language (especially for those who read in more than one clef).

          I put my money where my mouth is – I’ve been supporting the local school’s music program from before my kid was involved to and still support it even though he has graduated years ago. In fact, in two weeks I’ll be supporting the group yet again during the annual fund drive. This is in addition to funds that I donate to the district that are designated for the music department.

          Our district has a strong music program and oh yeah, is highly rated academically – winning national honors. No, I don’t live in a rich district. It’s a district where parents support the teachers, whether music related or not. Our sports teams may not be in the state tournament very often, but our kids are well prepared for college.

          Please realize that you have a huge impact on your students and that honesty is the best gift you can give even if it is not something that people initially want to hear. Realize also that this is not unique to education, those of us in business are also hushed up but the strong refuse to be yes men/women. We are here to keep our businesses out of trouble – similar to how you are there to get students to perform at a level that they may not think they are capable of.

        • I enjoyed watching the Teacher of the Year on CBS This Morning today.

          So, how long have you been teaching?

  • Erick

    All good points. The irony is, you are preaching to the choir….

  • Meghan Townsend Van Someren

    Based on this article – – it costs $187 a year to support one student’s comprehensive music education. I’m currently trying to find out how to most effectively fund specific Minneapolis inner-city public school music programs. .

  • Meghan Townsend Van Someren

    For those who want to put their money where their mouth is: Here’s a link to what appears to be a legit local organization that sponsors arts in Mpls Public Schools – Prince attended John Hay Elementary in Minneapolis, which is no longer in operation. the closest public schools to where John Hay elementary were are: Bethune Elementary, Minneapolis, Franklin Middle School Minneapolis, and North High School, Minneapolis. You can donate via this link and specify the school, and note that it’s a tribute to someone specific (hint: Prince).

  • Lobd

    I am thinking about a girl I met at a family homeless shelter a year ago. She was a flute player, and it was crushing her that she wasn’t in her orchestra any more due to her housing and family situation. Her orchestra gave her stability, social connections, and a sense of home when everything else was out the window. We had nothing else in common except love of our school orchestras. I hope she is playing again. Music matters.