Thursday, July 30, 2009


OpEd by Ted Barone | San Francisco Chronicle - Barone is the principal of Albany High School.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 - The budget straits the state of California is facing are forcing our leaders to make a series of pernicious choices with legacy implications. One such choice is whether to fund music programming or refocus our funding priorities to the "core academics" (which happen to be those subjects tested in the statewide testing system).

I propose that we really don't have a choice. We must fund music.

From the rhythm of our breathing as infants and the comforting lullabies that helped us sleep, to the cacophony of song and sound that envelops our modern everyday lives, music is an essential factor in what defines us as human. Music is a messenger that carries the history and collective experience of a people across time and space. Music also helps develop our brains in a way that will increase our ability to address and solve the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead of us as a people. The musical key is the proverbial key. In other words, the structure and organization of music is exactly what makes it so important for brain development. From the notes, chords are built. Chords determine keys, within which a skillful musician creates an experience, a message, a movement. Mix in rhythm and a new order of time emerges.

Music is all about creating neural networks and expanding the speed and capacity of the pathways that determine skill and memory. A key finding from brain research is that once a neural pathway is established, and the more that pathway is used, especially with passion and emotion, the greater the "bandwidth" and strength of the connection. Memory is improved, processing speed is increased, and better, more sophisticated decisions are a result.

Music is all about the structural connections that are used to support memory. It's much easier to remember something that follows a familiar structure or pattern than something random and unfamiliar. These familiar structures serve as the foundation for building greater knowledge and even stronger and more extensive neural networks that support learning of all kinds.

In a world of extraordinary complexity, a premium is placed on one's ability to quickly process massive amounts of wildly varying types of information. Musical instruction helps young people develop the brain capacity to process a lot of information and to organize and present it.

Playing music cultivates a mind that is prepared to process and make sense of the rush of information and problems that have come to characterize the 21st century. Music is a core subject. We can't cut funding for music any more than we can cut funding for math.

Albany High School serves grades 9-12 in the Albany City Unified School District, just north of Berkeley, CA.

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