Arts attune students to creative lives

By MARK STEIGHNER

Special to the News

Once again a state budget crisis has prompted communities and school districts throughout Oregon to examine programs and make difficult choices, and once again art and music programs will be downsized or eliminated.

However, art and music, far from being frills, stand at the center of who we are as a culture and a community, and how we support or demean arts education strongly reflects what we value.

I have been teaching for nearly 25 years and know from personal experience how important, enriching and profoundly satisfying music and the arts are to students and to their audiences. I have seen students of all ages make a journey of self-discovery, grow in confidence, poise, leadership, and maturity, all due to their experiences in music and the arts. Setting aside this anecdotal evidence, I urge you to consider the following:

Music and the arts are positive, uplifting forces that allow students to process and cope with the vastly negative events of a troubled world.

Music is cathartic. The healing aftermath of Sept. 11 included musical tributes and memorials that allowed a sharing of grief and a feeling of solidarity. Wherever there is shared joy or sadness there will be music and art; and in a society that is increasing enamored of technology, music and art represent the best of our humanity.

For students, as well as for our culture, music and the arts help us forge an identity that is both unique and connected to an historical lineage. One of the most memorable moments I've had as a teacher was performing with students in the cloisters of Iona, Scotland, where music had been performed for over a thousand years in just the same way.

Students could feel a profound sense of connection not only with each other, but the countless generations of musicians before them. In that moment, they experienced a level of historical and cultural education that would impact them for years to come.

Music and art education help students develop creativity, mental discipline, and divergent thinking. Music stimulates the brain in unique ways and the study of music has been correlated with increased SAT scores and enhanced verbal skills.

Music and the arts are lifelong activities that can be enjoyed recreationally, practiced professionally, and improved continuously.

Make no mistake, to realize its full potential arts education must be approached with high standards, a rigorous curriculum, and strong school and community support. The Oregon Education Reform Act placed music and arts education as a core subject alongside English, Math, Science, and Social Studies and all students must demonstrate competency in the arts in order to obtain a Certificate of Initial Mastery. How that competency is acquired and measured is an opportunity and a challenge each district must meet.

Music and arts education -- besides being legal requirements -- are mentally and emotionally enhancing, affirming, stimulating, creative, and expressive for participants and their audiences.

These are values that I hope our community will continue to recognize, nurture and support no matter what the challenge.

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Mark Steighner is choral and instrumental music teacher at Hood River Valley High School. He leads the HRVHS chamber singers to Ireland in late March for its third musical tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in the past five years.

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