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Music In Our Schools Month: How Music Brings Unity to a Diverse World


Unity is difficult to find these days.

Elections tear people apart and make it hard for anyone to agree with each other. I mean, people almost went to war arguing whether or not a sound byte said “Laurel” or “Yanny” last year. Not to mention that YouTube comment sections are usually filled with heated debates instead of encouragement or appreciation.

No one is hearing anyone else’s opinions, but instead, everyone is basically screaming at one another.

This means that we have to find common ground elsewhere in order to achieve unity.

What better place is there to find unity than in creating music together?

Almost every music student has had this experience: You are at rehearsal sitting in a room full of people with different backgrounds, different interests, and different personalities.

At first, it seems like you have little in common with some of the people in the room.

Then the music starts.

In a moment, you go from a room of individuals to a unified musical force. The sound washes over you in waves as the combined efforts of each contributor produces melodic harmony.

Music is different because you don’t just see it or do it, you feel it! That feeling makes people forget what separates them and remember how music can bring people together.

That’s what Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM) is all about!

Thanks to the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), March has been selected to be a Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM), a special time of the school year when music education becomes the highlight of schools nationwide.

While the emphasis is in the schools, MIOSM is not just for the teachers. It’s about everyone appreciating the whole music process: teachers, students, parents, and the greater community.

MIOSM isn’t for couch potatoes. This program needs people who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In schools across the country, the movement is using music to help kids meet new friends, build confidence in their musical talents, and appreciate diversity through the arts.

Music In Our Schools wants you to do more than gather around the ear buds with your friends (although that’s not a bad start!).

Be willing to share what you feel through playing or listening to music with someone else! Be a part of connecting music with a wider audience. Recitals, performances, and band classes are just a starting point.

We need to take the next step! Music can transcend cultural barriers and reach people groups who have been forgotten or been undervalued to develop unity.

3 Ways that Music Builds Unity

1. Music Provides Exposure to Other Cultures

Although spoken language may be different from country to country, music is a universal language. It is constantly being used in unique ways to share stories of the past and rich cultural pride.

MIOSM encourages cultural connectivity in the schools in hopes that it will flow out into the community. This fits perfectly with Music In Our Schools’ 2019 theme: “All Music. All People.”

This year, MIOSM bridges the cultural gap through its lessons that incorporate classic children’s songs in English and Spanish. While the lessons are targeting elementary aged kids, all students participating in MIOSM are encouraged to embrace diversity and different cultures.  

It is the beginning of the initiative to use music to break down cultural barriers and unite around music.

2. Music Gives Students A Place To Belong

When students struggle in sports, academics, or other clubs, they find themselves on the outside looking in. They can end up excluded from many groups because they don’t have common ground to share.

Music classes are often a refuge for students who are looking to find themselves or a group they can be a part of.

“I have so many stories of students feeling like outcasts, but finding their ‘family’ in the band program,” said Carl Soucek, band director at Carroll High School.

Brad Oyer, band director in the Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools, has also experienced how band classes can have a familial atmosphere.

He explained, “I’ve been directing bands for 16 years.  In that time, I have had numerous students be positively affected by our program.  For the most part, students come to my band for a sense of belonging. The range of talent is wide, but feeling of family is pervasive.”

“Students come to my band for a sense of belonging. The range of talent is wide, but the feeling of family is pervasive.” -Brad Oyer

Everyone wants to be a part of a family, and music offers a unique space for that kind of atmosphere. It is the kind of environment that MIOSM is working to create!

3. Music Includes Kids with Special Needs

There are few student groups more overlooked and isolated than the area of special needs. The gap in academic and even physical growth for special needs kids versus other kids makes it hard to create spaces where both groups can learn together.

Music programs give students with special needs the opportunity to participate equally with their peers in a unified way.

Special needs students can easily appreciate and engage music with peers in the general ed classroom. Many are capable of following beats, remembering lyrics, and moving to the rhythm. Some are even incredibly talented musicians!

Music can be an important space for the average student to serve the special needs community with their friendship. It also teaches the average student all of the wonderful contributions children with special needs can add to their school and community! Simultaneously, both groups can grow in music education through shared experience.

Process Into Product

So what’s one month of music focus going to do, you ask?

Thanks to the “Process into Product” initiative, NAfME is working toward not only highlighting music once a month, but revisiting progress throughout the year.

The program knows that it needs more than a month to build sustainable growth and excitement!

“The Council recognizes that teaching students how to create music, respond to music, and perform music is not an easy endeavor. We know that prior to a performance, there are months and weeks of practice and process that are rich in learning and vital to the outcome. Our goal is to highlight this journey in addition to the final concert or product.”

Musicians aren’t born, they’re made! Dedication to practice produces results. NAFME knows this, which is why they are making a point to celebrate “the Process”! The reward isn’t just in the results, it’s in the good habits being built and enjoyable experiences along the way.

When a music student goes from struggling to play an instrument at all to mastery of that instrument, something incredible happens.

In Mr. Oyer’s words, “as time goes on, and we continually use the same basic concepts, students begin to apply them on their own, and discover how to produce the music without needing constant director input.”

The results can’t be separated from all that effort. The benefits of the process make all of the potential results worth it.

Maybe it’s time for you to consider to become a part of that process!

Starting music early in schools is an important way to make students feel connected. It has a way of unifying a group of kids toward accomplishing different goals and producing an engaging event that the whole community can enjoy.

Not to mention, that band and orchestra directors desperately need your help and support!

If your child is already active in the orchestra or band at school, maybe it’s time to take the next step and get involved in more ways than simply attending the concert. Mr. Soucek believes in the importance of inviting parents into the process and not just the performance.

“Our booster organization is our best means of student/parent collaboration. Additionally, parents attend several shows and pre-show rehearsals during the fall season,” he said.

MIOSM efforts are to make music be an incredible tool for bringing culture and community together through music. Attending rehearsals and assisting in fundraising efforts are great ways for parents to see the process behind the music and show additional support to the music program in their school!

Will you be a part of using the gift of music to bring people together?

How has your school used music to create unity?

Comment below about how music has helped your child see beyond themselves or has helped them feel more connected to their peers!


About Author

Ryan Ruff is a Music Education Consultant for Kincaid's Is Music, using his expertise to help band and orchestra directors build better music programs. He graduated with a degree in Music Education from Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

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