Last month, the Trump Administration proposed Federal government “reforms” that included the consolidation of the Department of Education and the Department of Labor. Whether such a proposal will prevail in this sulfurous crater we call a democracy these days is anybody’s guess. But, symbolically, this proposal is a chilling indication that the administration holds a cynically narrow view of the mission of public education: to process children into productive adult workers.
We strenuously object.
The idea that the scope of public education in the United States should be shrunk—that students should learn on the taxpayers’ dime only what prepares them for life as agreeable worker drones—is not new. For example, since countless other fresh hells have spawned in the last several years, you can be excused for forgetting about that time when the Texas GOP enshrined their opposition to teaching students how to think critically. But it is the nation’s long-wavering commitment to music education that I’d like to talk about today—because it is almost certain to get worse before it gets better, and because you can help.
When we chartered The Mockingbird Foundation in 1996, it didn’t take us long to land on a mission. Our deeply shared love for the music of Phish pointed the way, because we knew that this music didn’t just spontaneously generate. The band spoke openly about its academic grounding and about the influence of teachers like Karl Boyle and Ernie Stires on the origin and evolution of their ambitious compositions, attentive interplay, and practiced musicianship. We felt that we as patrons owed a tremendous debt to those schools and those teachers, and that indebtedness still informs the Foundation’s purpose.
If the thought of a world with no Phish and less music generally isn’t a powerful enough argument for music education, consider just some of the many benefits of music education on developing minds:
Learning to play music requires children to develop focus and discipline. Even the most rudimentary exercises require a student to invest mindful effort and be fully present to master them.
Learning to play music gives children a sense of accomplishment. That sense of accomplishment will fuel their next academic endeavor in music or elsewhere.
Learning to play music gives children a reason to stay in school. Naturally creative children with a structured outlet for their creativity are less likely to disengage and drop out.
Learning to play an instrument develops emotional IQ. Children who learn to play music learn how to listen to—and develop empathy for—other people and cultures, and cope more effectively with anxiety.
The neurological mechanisms behind all of this developmental goodness are imperfectly understood, but what we do know is that the simple act of practicing a musical instrument rewires the brain. It ignites a unique array of motor, auditory, touch, reflex, and emotional circuitry all at once, making it arguably the most complex mental activity we are capable of as human beings. This stimulation dramatically increases the number of synapses in our brains, and increases our capacity to learn and remember in ways that nothing else we know of can. It’s good for every sort of noggin, and the younger the noggin the better.
All these empirical arguments aside, perhaps the best case for more arts and music education in our society is the betterment of our society through the proliferation of more art and music. Yet our current government is openly abdicating its traditional leadership role in promoting the arts and music, showing its hand most recently in a budget that promised to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and other cultural agencies.
What is the state of public music education today, then, and what does it ask of us? In 2017, The Give A Note Foundation in partnership with the CMA Foundation interviewed music educators and teachers around the country and found that underfunding is pervasive:
79% of schools must use student fundraising to supplement districtwide or building-based school budgets.
28% of high schools receive the majority of their financial support from fundraising.
8% of high schools reported receiving no music education allocation from either source.
American schools with music programs have student/teacher ratios as high as 1000:1.
Lest anyone think this austerity is equally and fairly distributed in American communities, low-income schools have felt the pinch even more acutely in the past several decades; today those communities have 10-20% fewer public schools offering music instruction of any kind as compared to more affluent schools.
For The Mockingbird Foundation to continue swimming against this tide, we are asking you to donate today. None of it will go to waste. We’re all volunteers, and our overhead is low, meaning that almost 100% of your money will touch the lives of children. Consider these words from just a few of our past grantees:
“When we were notified that our grant application had been approved and then doubled it was life changing for us. The $16,000 grant allowed us to purchase a 51-piece world drumming set, a 37-piece handchime set, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, a bass drum, roto-toms, temple blocks, and a number of books to support the new curriculum. The excitement over the new band instruments provided by the doubling of the grant has expanded my band from 38 students this year to 50 for next year! Almost half of the 5th grade class will be in band next school year thanks to your incredible generosity.”
Mark Twain Elementary School | Carson City, NV
“It was a great honor to have Cole Berggren and Blue Bear School of Music partner with us at the Bayview YMCA running our Multimedia Center. Our Youth and Teen Programs offer a safe space where our participants can learn how to become songwriters, DJ, audio production, and network with each to create positive collaborative projects. Our participants have blossomed with new opportunities from it. Our participants created a 24/7 online music broadcast called YRADIOSF, in which they run and manage a broadcast cloud and host live broadcast shows, which listeners and watchers can follow through social media. We also have participants who have developed their own artistry, built their independent record labels, and pushed out their own content.
“Now we are receiving requests from local nonprofits and businesses to have a broadcast show and have our youth and teens run it. This would not be possible without humbled beginnings, blessings, and support from Cole Berggren, the Blue Bear School of Music and the Mockingbird Foundation.”
Youth and Teen Programs | Bayview YMCA | San Francisco, CA
“The Mockingbird Foundation grant allowed CSA to buy brand new instruments and kick-start our ArtsReach Brass Band, a new outreach program serving at-risk students at a local community center. The first Brass Band formed last summer, and 25 students had the first chance to learn with our brand new instruments. We were thrilled for these students to have the opportunity, but knew that playing in the summer program’s final concert after only six weeks with their instruments would be unlikely. Yet these students took us all by surprise. By week four, it was clear that they had taken the final concert as a personal challenge. Their growth and determination showed, and at the summer program’s conclusion, a group of 12 students played the opening fanfare and one piece during the concert.”
Community School of the Arts | Charlotte, NC
Let’s make even more stories like these. We’re immensely grateful for the generosity of this community over the years, and hope to serve it for many years to come.
Please donate today. Thank you.
If you liked this blog post, one way you could "like" it is to make a donation to The Mockingbird Foundation, the sponsor of Phish.net. Support music education for children, and you just might change the world.
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Phish.net is a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans under the auspices of the all-volunteer, non-profit Mockingbird Foundation.
This project serves to compile, preserve, and protect encyclopedic information about Phish and their music.
The Mockingbird Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Phish fans in 1996 to generate charitable proceeds from the Phish community.
And since we're entirely volunteer – with no office, salaries, or paid staff – administrative costs are less than 2% of revenues! So far, we've distributed over $2 million to support music education for children – hundreds of grants in all 50 states, with more on the way.