Cawthorne Lecture

January 31, 2006

 

*****

 

Thank-You Dr. Allen. I would like to also thank Don and Chris Cawthorne, great friends of Georgetown College, for establishing this award. Their memory is alive – each and every day – as growth, development and maturation takes place on our campus community, a place they so loved and cherished.

 

I would like to extend a special welcome to all of you that have chosen to attend today’s lecture – or those of you that need CEP credit. Either way is fine with me – as the result is the same – basically you are trapped like rats for the next thirty or so minutes. [It would be appropriate for each of you to sneak a peek at your watches now.] So to each and all I say Welcome and Howdy.

 

At the outset, I would like to extend a heart-felt THANK-YOU to my many teachers, mentors and special friends who comprise the “crowded-stage” of my life. These fine folks; some younger, some older – some present today, most unable to be here today ….. fuel and have fueled, the assorted spheres in which I have the great privilege and pleasure of living and working. Were it not for these fine beings – I would be nothing – as my life has been naught but a long series of most-undeserved blessings. Names are not necessary for you that I cherish most ….. as you each know that you live close to my heart, soul and being always. Thank-You.

 

Additionally [eeks, probably not good to start a sentence with an adverb, as our cherished Provost and English-Teacher Extraordinaire is in the house – oh what the heck – you all know I am just an old farm boy, the odds of me having the opportunity to chat with such an august gathering are zero – so I’ll just forge ahead] ….. Additionally, I want to take this opportunity [please refer to the previous – you are temporarily trapped like rats comment] to most-sincerely thank all members of our Georgetown College campus community – a place that over the years I have grown to love and cherish. Thank-You – Dr. Crouch and all of the Giddings Crawlers; Thank-You – cherished Colleagues on our teaching faculty; Thank-You – most-beloved members of our great Staff; and a special Thank-You to all of you young Scholars – the only reason the doors are open, the only reason we are today present. As I said last spring when I was humbled by this award – I accept this singular honor, not personally, but as representative of the incredible teaching which goes on, and excellence which is present at Georgetown College, day after day, semester after semester – and has been for over two hundred years.

 

In preparation for today’s chat [yes, I think we shall just continue to call it a chat – although I shall be the only one talking – hint, hint, hint – “lecture” sounds a bit high fallutin’ for my taste; “speech” is worse] ….. so as I was considering the occasion, I thought perhaps I should bring my trusty trombone and blow a few tunes for you [who could possibly not love the dulcet sounds of a trombone, I ask you?] – heckers, I even thought about bringing the entire Grrr… Band and all of the Band Scholars to liven up the proceedings a bit. Upon reflection, however, I decided a “chat” it is – a “chat” it shall be. So, alas and alack – no trombone, no band, no snappy power-point presentations, no cool handouts – it is just me and thee for the next few minutes.

 

Guiding my preparations then, were two bits of wisdom I have picked up over the years; one from a great preacher [yes, even heretics like me have a few religious buddies] and one from a great teacher. The preacher’s advice, “tell ‘em what you are gonna tell ‘em ….. tell ‘em ….. tell ‘em what you told ‘em”. The teacher’s advice, “know your stuff ….. know who you are stuffin’ and stuff ‘em”. So here we go [peaks at watches are again appropriate at this juncture] …..

 

Keep the Arts in the Liberal Arts is the official title of today’s chat. The undisclosed sub-title is Keep the Arts in Life. I am actually going to ramble on a bit, dare I say chat a bit – about the importance of music in our daily lives. I shall start by briefly discussing the historic precedent for music in education; then present a few interesting and striking examples of folks involved with music – followed by some compelling research findings that point towards the extreme importance of participation – with and about music – in our schools and educational settings. I shall then close with a call to arms – an advocacy plan for each of us.

 

“The arts are not a luxury of education, but emphatic expressions of that which makes education worthwhile said noted educational reformer John Dewey about one hundred years ago. Now let me say that again, “the arts are not a luxury of education” but emphatic expressions of that which makes education worthwhile. Hmmm. Where have we run amuck? Why have we run amuck? Why today, do we tend to consider the arts “icing” on the cake – not the “cake” itself. The mantra for the NEA is “a great nation deserves great art”. Double Hmmm. Do we really want our civilization to be remembered by the works of Britney Spears? It seems to me that we might have some “issues” as you twenty-somethings love to say.

 

Good God in the morning, history is replete with examples of the importance of the arts generally, and music particularly in education, and I am going to cite but three examples. As every current or alumni 8:00 Scholar knows, the Greek educational system was founded on simply a two-part curriculum – musik and gymnastiks. Not unlike what you may find on page twenty-nine of the college catalog – your Gen Ed requirements – our good friends, the Greeks had core requirements; all things good for the mind – musik; and all things good for the body – gymnastiks. Hmmm. Sounds like a system; sounds like a plan. Plato himself said, “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all of the arts – are the keys of learning.” Who are we to ignore Plato ….. I ask you?

 

Let’s zip forward to the great cathedral schools of the Middle Ages, from whence the concept of the liberal arts actually evolves. The seven liberal arts were divided into the quadrivium, the upper four subjects – and the trivium – the lower three. The lower three were comprised of rhetoric, logic and grammar – all good and useful subjects. Of particular note, however, is that the upper four, the quadrivium – that which the great founders of the liberal arts concept cherished the most – included astronomy, arithmetic, geometry – and yeppir – you guessed it ….. MUSIC!. Sounds like good precedent to me [and in light of the recent confirmation hearings on a new Supreme Court Justice – precedence seems darned hard to accept and come by this days – sorry for this brief, political sidebar]. And for the third, great historic example – we come to the shores of America, we zip over to Boston where lived and worked a gent by the name of Lowell Mason. Well-known composer of hymns, oft-times called the father of music education in the United States. In 1838 at a “public school” [and this is important – it was a public school, not a private academy] Mr. Mason instituted a curriculum in which music played an important and primary role. His work at the Hawes School, was then duplicated and replicated all over our great country. The arts in general, and music in particular became a DAILY offering in our public schools for the next one hundred and fifty years or so. Friends, this is important. Three examples of noteworthy, historic precedent – for the inclusion of the arts and music in education.

 

Okay, quiz time ….. what do Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Chester A. Arthur, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton have in common? Aye? Well, yes – they were all Presidents of the United States – but interestingly enough, also accomplished musicians. Okay, let us try again ….. what do Tedy Bruschi, Vince Carter, Melvin Paige and Trevor Pryce have in common? Aye? Well, they are all well-known professional athletes and also accomplished musicians. Alright, third and final try on today’s quiz ….. what do Neil Armstrong, Alan Greenspan, Meryl Streep, Prince Charles and Condoleeza Rice have in common? Aye? Yeppir, you guessed it – other famous folks who are also accomplished musicians? Believe you me, I could ramble on endlessly [probably another good time to sneak a peak at your watches] citing example after example of a similar nature – and it might be interesting to note a quote from former President Clinton [and no matter which side your political bread is buttered on – you gotta admit Mr. Clinton is one very, very bright gent] ….. he said "Music to me is representative of everything I like most in life. My musical experiences were just as important to me, in terms of my development, as my political experiences or academic life."

 

Do we see a pattern here? Yes, perhaps. Very famous folks – very successful folks, from all walks of life who were also accomplished musicians. Can we necessarily draw any solid “cause-effect” conclusions from these examples? Well perhaps not. I am reminded, however, of when I was a very little Peter, and upon occasion my very, very, very thrifty father [just an old farmer, most called him downright cheap] would take my brothers and I to Columbus, where we’d see an old building – and on the side of it was the slogan “teach a boy to blow a trumpet and he’ll never blow a safe”. There might be some general wisdom to this.

 

Now for those of you serious left-hemisphere folks, those of you skeptics in the crowd, dare I say “Doubting Thomases” – those accepting neither historic precedent nor mere anecdotal examples, what about some hard, cold research? Believe you me, there is a veritable plethora of research that points towards the great importance of participation in the arts and music.

 

In 1998, researchers at the University of Munster, Germany – reported that “music lessons in childhood actually enlarge the brain ….. the auditory cortex is enlarged by 25% in musicians compared to those who never played an instrument.” A landmark study by Frances Rauscher at the University of California-Irvine indicated that “links between neurons in the brain are strengthened with music lessons.” An earlier study by Frank Wilson involving instrumental music instruction and the brain revealed that “learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system.” In 1999 the College Entrance Examination Board at Princeton reported that “music students continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT.” On the average, students who had participated in music scored 61 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 42 points higher on the math portion. Reports from the College Board in 2001 and 2003 indicate similar, compelling findings.

 

There are many, many studies that show the relationship between mathematics and music. Armstrong in 1988; Shaw in 1993 and Moar in 1999 – to name but three, consistently find that participation in music helps students “count, recognize geometric shapes, understand ratios and proportions and the framework of time ….. leading to a heightened ability to understand fractions and solve math problems and puzzles.”

 

The very influential work of Howard Gardner at Harvard, and his concept of Multiple Intelligences is revolutionizing the way we view the brain and our educational system. Starting in 1983 with Project Zero, Professor Gardner proposed that instead of a single measure of intellectual capacity [as in the old Stanford-Binet concept of IQ] – we are each possessed of “multiple” intelligences [starting with seven – and I think he is up to nine these days] – and yes, you guessed it – Musical Intelligence is one of them. His work has changed – and is changing, how school curricula is being designed today.

 

And then there is the well-reported “Mozart Effect”, the many, many studies that indicate that listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart increases in particular – the spatial IQ of an individual. Now I am not going to stand here today and say that if you listen to Mozart’s Symphony #40 for 2 hours a day, that you shall get a guaranteed “A” in Typhoid’s [that would be Dr. Burch’s] Irish Literature Class – but friends – it might help.

 

The solid research, the replicated studies – are many. The scientific evidence is compelling – there are simply very strong connections between involvement in music and greater student achievement. No matter one’s age – exposure to music and music participation helps to develop, refine and fine-tune the workings of our brains.

 

So where are we? Where do we stand at this juncture [yeah – quick and I mean quick – peak at your watches again appropriate]?

 

One: we have strong historic precedent for the importance of music in our educational environments. Two: we acknowledge that many, many great and notable folks not only were and are involved in music, but cherish these special experiences. Three: we see compelling research for the extreme importance of music and arts education in each of our lives.

 

So why have the arts in general and music in particular become perceived as “icing” on the cake? Why do we defer our cultural obligations? Why do we shun the needs of our civilization? Are we all just slackards?

 

The well-known composer and educator, Zoltan Kodaly [and I always thought if I had a son, I would call him Zoltan – I just like the name ….. but I digress] said, “Music is the manifestation of the human spirit, similar to language. Its greatest practitioners have conveyed to mankind things not possible to say in any other language. If we do not want these things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest possible number of people understand their idiom.” The celebrated conductor and choral educator Robert Shaw said, “The arts are the hand of humanity reaching out to others in a world of persecution, indifference and terror. The arts can set us free, unlike our technological, image-making society, which seeks to control us. The arts may be not – a luxury of the few, but the last, best hope of humanity to inhabit with joy this planet.” Powerful statements ….. thought-provoking statements. Reflection upon them gives us pause.

 

So ….. what can you do? What can I do? What can we do to make a difference? Well baby, you guessed it – I am going to make a few suggestions…..

 

Regarding education – Charles Leonhard, the pre-eminent music educator of the 20th century [and I hasten to add that this cigarette-smoking, gin-swilling giant, sadly now departed from this earth – was my great teacher, mentor and friend at the University of Illinois – let’s hear a little cheer for the Illini …..] said, “we must work to create a literate, well-informed citizenry [sorry I have trouble saying that word] where music takes a primary seat at the table of education.”

 

To you young scholars ….. in the future, you shall all be leaders of your respective communities – in positions where you can positively affect and change that which is offered in your local schools. You must recognize the importance of – and be an advocate for – keeping music and music programs in your public school. Yes, when bucks get tight – the sad tendency is to “delete” art and phys ed and music – but we do this at our own peril [and this sad trend has played itself out across our great nation these days]. You must take leadership positions in your communities of the future, to ensure each young person has exposure to, and access to, vital, successful music programs. Does this cost some money? Yep! Does it take some time? Yep! Does a Jeep cost a bit more than a Yugo [and I have some personal experience in this particular area, trust me]? Yes! Is there a difference in the ride? Yes – you bet. Get my point!

 

Generally speaking, that of import, that of substance, that of worth – has a price, and when called upon – we must be willing to pay it.

 

When fast-talking, slick-dressing politicians come to your communities and are ranting about “we must get back to basics” [which is their tendency] you must cry from the highest mountain-top [I thought a little Biblical allusion might go well here] ….. MUSIC IS BASIC! It is your bound responsibility as young scholars to do whatever you can in the future to keep music and arts programs as a daily part of public school education.

 

Now young scholars, keeping in mind the words of Mark Twain, “the art of prophecy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future” [oh, come on – that was good for at least a chuckle] ….. in the future [and we hope this would be the distant future in most cases] you and your spouse shall spawn. It is a logical and natural occurrence [so they say]. Please understand that arguably the greatest gift you may give your son or daughter – would be the gift of music education. I know you will want [and society will say] that you must get for Little Tommy or Little Susie the “X-Box for Toddlers” or the “I-Pod for Kids”. Please understand, gifts of this sort are fleeting and visceral in nature. Perhaps, give instead the gift of piano lessons, or violin instruction; the gift of participation in a children’s choir or heck – even trombone lessons [always a good thing]. Gifts of this nature will help your future sons and daughters grow intellectually, have an important creative and expressive outlet – and will enable them to develop talents and skills and abilities they may use and cherish for the rest of their lives [and I’m gonna amplify this life-long participation with music a bit more in a second – okay if you insist – one more glance at your watches or the clocks on your nasty, evil 666 cell phones].

 

It is your duty, it is your obligation – to do whatever is in your power, to keep music in your schools and to provide the gift of music-making and music instruction for your communities and families of the future. TAKE HEED.

 

Now besides a commitment to education – what can you do, what can I do, what can we do to help “The Cause”? It has to do with our consumption of music – our participation with music.

 

Perhaps, you are a fan of Cold Play or Incubus. Perhaps, you resonate to the music of Dave Matthews or Matchbox 20. Perhaps, the music of Kanye West or Black-Eyed Peas speaks to you. Perhaps, your newest CD is one of Kelly Clarkson or Jason Mraz. Perhaps, you are a bit of a “Twanger” [as am I] and you love Kenny Chesney or Rascal Flats or Shania [who could not love Shania]. Or perhaps you are a true, hard-core “Twanger” and swear by the artistry of the Carter Family, or Hank Sr., or Patsy, or Loretta [this would be indicative of the fact that you are possessed of good taste].

 

Now I would be the first to acknowledge the importance of each of these artists; to acknowledge their contributions to our collective society. But a question …… why are we more likely to enjoy Green Day rather than Mozart – why are we more likely to support John Mayer rather than Beethoven?

 

Friends, I believe the answer is a bit of an indictment of our very civilization. Today we are consumed with the need for immediate gratification; we are a society that seemingly lacks patience. We want it all – we want it now, and this is somewhat reflected in our collective musical taste.

 

To love Beethoven requires a bit of knowledge, a bit of background, a bit of patience – we simply must bring more to the listening table to have a relationship with this great gent. But the potential pay-off, the possible outcome is oh so sweet and oh so great. Charles Leonhard has also said that, “music is a unique system of nonverbal symbols through which the noblest thoughts and feelings of humans have been expressed and can be communicated.” It makes me shudder to think that music, this greatest of art forms is today the dominion of the likes of Britney or Michael or Ricky.

 

So, what can you do, what can I do, what can we do to alter this affection for musical immediacy, to change this infatuation with the potentially fleeting and banal? We must not defer our musical taste to corporate America – that great entity that time after time will pander to us, move us towards the lowest common denominator. We must not let society foist upon us music of questionable value; artists of dubious worth. We must develop reflective discrimination that gives each of us a basis for controlling the aesthetic quality of our musical lives and makes that quality a matter of reflective choice – not chance. There is a reason why, this week – world-wide, we are celebrating the 250th birthday of Mr. Mozart. His music is timeless; his music touches our very hearts and souls. As President Kennedy said, “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him” – and we must follow.

 

Well, we are now rounding the club house turn and heading for the home stretch [really no need to look at your watches at this juncture – trust me]. So far in our little advocacy plan, our call to arms – I have discussed the need for musical education and the sacrifices it might require of us. I have chatted about our consumption of music – and that to up the ante – a bit more patience might be required of us. I now move briefly to the third tine of this musical fork – and that is the importance of life-long, active participation in music.

 

Now we all love athletics – society tells us we should. We all love our Tigers – Coach Johnson, our Football Buddy, the Dark Master and the Archbishop tell us we should. Where I came from, you love the Buckers, you idolized Woody, you adore Mr. Tressel – it is one’s patriotic duty. This is all well and fine. Every short person [that would be my personal euphemism for a youngster] you see, nationwide wears t-shirts, jerseys and jackets proclaiming their allegiance to this sports team or that professional athlete. Being physically active, involved in athletics – formally or informally is supposed to be good for one’s health [or so they say – for now, I’m still sticking with the Marlboros]. Fine, fine, fine. I am not hammering on sports unduly – the heavy hand of society tells us all things athletic are somehow good, very good. I am just asking you to consider, I am asking you contrast – participation in athletics with participation in music.

 

You wanna enhance your life, and enhance it in a way that you may enjoy for many, many years to come – participate in music. You wanna enrich your life in a way that enables you to express yourself – even when you are 103 – participate in music. You wanna provide for yourself a creative outlet that literally may be with you always – participate in music.

 

In this case, I am not talking hypothetically, I am not talking about intangibles – I want you, you in this Chapel today, to be involved with and about music. I do not care if you are a twenty-something, or a forty-something or a sixty-something – decide now, decide today – to be involved with the wonderful world of music. Yeah I know, some of you are saying – “heck, I can’t even play the radio”, no problem – start singing in a choir [no offense to Dr. Campbell]. Yeah I know, some of you are saying – “heck if I play violin in an orchestra my fraternity brothers will think I am a dweeb”, no problem – at some level, we are all dweebs. Yeah I know, some of you are saying – “heck if I play in the Tiger Bands [always a good thing I hasten to add] someone, somewhere will think I am a band geek” – probably, but geeks need loving too – do they not?

 

If you have always wanted to play the guitar, go to the hock shop – buy one cheap and learn to play it – it will provide hours and years of enjoyment for you. If you have always wanted to learn to play the piano – take some lessons. If you have always wanted to sing in a choir – find a throat band compatible with your taste – maybe at church, maybe here at school, maybe in your community and start warbling. If you have always wanted to blow a horn, bang on a drum – find a band – somewhere and join. You will find that participation – active participation with and about music, will ….. enhance your life, enrich your life – in ways that may not be counted. I am always saddened when I chat with someone who says “gosh, I hate that I quit singing in choir”, or “why did I ever stop my piano lessons”, or “I wish I still played my trumpet.” Get Involved! Do it ….. do it now!

 

Our time together grows short – the time for you all to mob the Café draws nigh. Let us one more time reflect upon this brief journey we have taken this morning: there are compelling reasons for the all-important inclusion of music in our lives ….. historic precedent, a veritable plethora [I had to throw in my favorite phrase again, I promised a cherished colleague I would use it at least twice today] ….. a veritable plethora of examples of famous folks who were involved with and cherished their participation in music, and unassailable scientific research and evidence supporting the premise that music is essential to our growth, development and well-being. We then moved to a call to arms for music in our lives: the importance of providing solid music education for everyone; the importance of making wise and thoughtful decisions regarding how we consume music; the importance of acknowledging – and deciding now, to be involved in music.

 

Robert Shaw said, “…we must think of the liberal arts as the conservative arts, because they are the things that really conserve us.” Yes, we must keep the arts in the liberal arts. Yes, we must keep music in our lives. It has been my great privilege and pleasure to spend some time with you today. Thank-You. That is all. Bye-Bye.

*****

Most Warmly,

Pete LaRue

January 31, 2006