On Thursday night, my partner and I joined the thousands of other people outside of First Avenue to mourn the loss of this city’s great musical icon, Prince. Minneapolis’ love for Prince was palpable and contagious. Song and dance were the unanimously agreed-upon methods of remembrance. We arrived shortly after the last live performance. In the absence of music, several impromptu dance parties erupted from wherever someone was blasting a Prince song. I couldn’t help making note of how diverse the crowd was. The varied fabric of our city was on full display. I thought to myself: “Wow, look at the power music has to transcend our differences.”
Music is powerful. It has the scientifically proven ability to ease pain, reduce stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and elevate mood, and it helps manage stress and anxiety. It can even improve cognitive performance. In an Atlantic article, “Using Music to Close the Academic Gap,” author Lori Miller Kase discusses many ongoing longitudinal studies with children from lower-income backgrounds that are tracking the academic benefits of music education. Preliminary findings reveal that learning to play an instrument can have a dramatically positive effect on a child’s future academic trajectory. Learning to make music strengthens an individual’s auditory working memory, which makes it easier to pay attention in class. Strengthening the brain’s encoding of timbre, pitch and timing also strengthens one’s ability to interpret speech. Research also has found that those skilled in rhythm also tend to be better readers.
Increasing a child’s exposure to and participation in music has so many benefits. Sadly, struggling schools are apt to dissolve or cut back their music programs, as the more basic needs of the children overshadow what’s seen as a luxury. Struggling schools that do offer music programs might not have the resources to effectively engage the children, as they’re spread thin and families may not be able to afford instruments or private lessons. Unfortunately, in these scenarios, the children who would most benefit from music instruction are often denied access.
In an interview with VH1, Prince recounted his early music education and expressed gratitude for his teacher’s generosity in giving him a private room so he had the freedom to explore and create music. That teacher’s investment was pivotal in the early development of the musical genius, and in a tiny way we have that teacher to thank for the music Prince gave us.
As we all continue to reflect upon and honor the life of Prince, I hope we also remember the value of music — not only to carry a legacy, but to better a child’s life. Please consider investing in early music education as a way to honor Prince and the city he loved. You can do so by contacting your local school administrator to express your desire for music education to continue to be an integral part of the curriculum, which is made easy through the website musicmakesuswhole.org. You may also consider making a donation through instrumentsinthecloud.org, which connects local school music educators with needed resources to support their efforts.
Derek Otte, of Minneapolis, is a graduate student.