Music brings people together in our shrinking world


Despite the current political climate where efforts to build walls, ban travel and separate different ethnic groups are increasing, an argument can be made that over time, the forces of globalization are simply too strong and, ultimately, will prevail.

The result is that the U.S. is no longer a virtual island, protected by two major oceans. We can no longer isolate ourselves from the problems, issues and opportunities of the rest of the world. We are part of a global economic and geopolitical system. In so many ways, we are becoming one world.

Rather than trying to build walls we must learn to effectively deal with that reality.

This begs the question: What must our educational institutions do to effectively educate and prepare our children to succeed in this changing global reality?

Increasingly, our schools are being asked to instill in our children not only an awareness and appreciation for changing global circumstances, but also to prepare them to successfully navigate the challenges presented by an increasingly multiethnic and multicultural global community. In other words, proficiency in reading, writing and math is no longer enough.

Today, a quality education must include an understanding of, appreciation for, and the ability to function in a multiethnic, multinational, interrelated world.

If we expect our children and our nation to thrive in the 21st century, our educational policies and programs must take into account these changing challenges and expectations. In particular, this includes priorities and policies relating to the role that music can play in the school curricula.

Music has always been viewed as a powerful tool in breaking barriers and promoting cross-cultural appreciation. That is why, for example, there is a long and strong history of the U.S. State Department using music as a vehicle to promote cultural understanding.

The number of cultural exchange programs that have music groups from countries all over the world travel to America and vice versa are too many to mention. Also consider the radio networks that broadcast American jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll to a worldwide audience. Teens are downloading music from around the world on their smartphones.

I was recently reminded of music’s potential in this regard by a fellow musician recounting a visit to Italy. He described two very unexpected highlights. As he and his family entered an open plaza in Rome, they heard, flowing out of a beautiful cathedral, the sound of a choral group in full-throated Latin. Upon further inquiry, they were surprised to discover the group consisted of high school students from all over the United States. They were rehearsing for a performance, one of several they were scheduled to give throughout Europe.

The second occurred at a cafe in Venice, where they noticed a play bill advertising an upcoming appearance by a choral group. Upon closer examination, they saw that the group was a high school chorus from a small town in rural Indiana. Imagine being a high school kid from a country town in middle-America singing in Florence, Italy. How cool is that!

Music is the universal language with an appeal that transcends language, cultural or religious boundaries. The notes played by a musician fall on the ears the same way whether you are American, Muslim, Jewish, African or Mexican. Engaging in musical activities with people of another culture or country can increase cultural understanding and tolerance. It is the ability to build bridges to other cultures and societies that makes music such a valuable educational and cultural tool.

In an increasingly integrated global economy and diverse world community, providing our children access to music education opportunities is critical. Rather than building walls, school and community leaders should be working to leverage the power of music as a universal language to break down barriers and build community.

In today’s world, harnessing music’s power in this regard is more important than ever.

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