Music is my friend with benefits

If your social media feed is like mine, it’s almost constantly filled with articles on some new benefit that has been discovered from studying music. In recent weeks I’ve learned that participating in music can help me make friends more quickly, give me better emotional health, and improve my test scores. I’m hoping they do more studies. If we could figure out which Reger organ piece best moves my bowels, and which Machaut motet helps the flu, that could be useful as well.

I think that learning all these things is fantastic. For most of us that participate in musical ensembles, we are well aware that music returns much more than we can ever give. What I don’t want to see in discussing the benefits is to go back behind the victories of the 19th century. In the late 18th century, music was primarily seen as valuable for an emotional outlet, but it was not considered an intellectually rigorous activity. It was E.T.A. Hoffman (and others) that argued that the Beethoven Symphonies were an intellectual achievement that was on a par with a Shakespeare play. Music as music was an intellectual and emotional fusion worth pursuing for its own sake and not for any purported benefits that it gave.

That is not intended to take away from the benefits. They are real, and they are there. The danger of course is when we see it filter down into the education system. When I taught elementary school in Florida, I had a few dunderheaded principals who saw my role primarily in terms of reinforcing math skills so that test scores could improve. It was pretty easy for them to cite a study that showed it was true, and they quickly made the jump to seeing my function as a sort of fun math teacher.

So, go ahead an post the studies on my feed. Music is my friend with benefits. Just be careful that they don’t backfire. Our calling is to pursue the discipline for its own sake, and let the benefits fall where they may.

Click here to hear Sean Ivory’s piece about music.

Originally published at