17 Sep 2018

Why does music education in our schools matter?

And what should USUO’s Education and Outreach programs provide to our young citizens of Utah?

These are questions I think about often as we strive to increase engagement with our youth, and so instill a love of music at an early age.
Fortunately, since the early days of both Utah Symphony (founded 1940) and Utah Opera (founded 1978), the artistic and executive directors have recognized the importance of developing education programming in tandem with the main concert and opera seasons. Thanks to their belief and follow-through, multiple generations of children in Utah have grown up with exposure to symphony concerts and opera performances in their schools and venues throughout the state. Today, as the largest resource for professional music education experiences in Utah, USUO’s programs take place almost daily during the academic year. Over 150,000 students benefit annually from our free education concerts and events, an astonishing number.

Musicians visit with a group of students at Bluff Elementary School.

Musicians visit with a group of students at Bluff Elementary School.

The majority of our programs, taking place in schools throughout the state as well as in our home performance venues, utilize the world-class musicians of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera to provide students with the gift of live classical music and the inspiration to develop their own creative capabilities. Enthusiasm, confident determination, artistry, and teamwork are vital skills demonstrated in our outreach programs, and we believe every student receives a unique experience by attending. Additionally, we support schools and young musicians through our youth guild, discounted and free tickets for students and high school music clubs, teacher workshops and classes, and “side-by-side with the pros” performance opportunities with the Utah Symphony.

Students at Springdale Elementary learn about the different elements of music.

Students at Springdale Elementary learn about the different elements of music.

While USUO’s programs have grown over the decades, tight budgets have caused many school districts to reduce or cease their own music-specific classes. This is especially disheartening in light of a number of scientific studies over the last forty years that have revealed numerous benefits to developing minds as a result of music lessons. One comprehensive study produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013 clearly stated the power of music lessons:

“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.”

The study found that kids who take music lessons “have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.” If you’re intrigued to learn more, I encourage you to read a list compiled by the digital magazine Mic noting just a few of the many neurological benefits that music lessons can provide.

This compelling evidence of the power of music inspires everyone at USUO- our musicians, staff, and board members- to be 100% committed to enriching the lives of Utah’s youth through music. With gratitude, we receive generous grants for our education programs from the Utah State Legislature, augmented by many individuals, corporations, and foundations. And yet, as public school programs continue to face budget cuts, we could do so much more. It is a critical time to support music in our schools.

Utah Opera's Resident Artists perform "Who Wants to be an Opera Star?" in Coalville, Utah

Utah Opera’s Resident Artists perform “Who Wants to be an Opera Star?” in Coalville, Utah

Music has been a positive force in lives throughout human history. As a result of great foresight by our predecessors, we have here in Utah one of the most extensive education initiatives by a professional musical arts organization in the United States. I hope that you are inspired by these marvelous services provided by today’s and tomorrow’s USUO’s musicians and music educators as well as by those delivered by the dedicated music teachers in schools and private studios throughout the state.

Let’s ensure we continue to empower our youth by giving them the opportunities for self-expression, creativity, confidence and teamwork through engagement with music in our schools. Please join us in supporting their future!

Paul Meecham
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President & CEO