Like many other aspects of life that have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, musical education is going through a period of uncertainty and adjustment. Similar to other education programs, the pandemic wreaked havoc and forced cancellations of music lessons around the world. As can be expected, students have been the most deeply affected, but music education is an activity that revolves around many stakeholders such as parents, educators, and administrators.
Not long after the World Health Organization declared the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to be a pandemic, classroom education was canceled across North America in order to comply with public health directives related to social distancing. In many cases, the academic year was only a couple of months away from completion, and there were strong hopes that things would get back to normal in time for the fall semester. By the middle of the summer break, those hopes were shattered by rising coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The Best Case Scenario for Returning to the Classroom
Even though we may have already seen the worst of the pandemic, it is by no means over. A return to normalcy would entail a combination of working vaccines, effective treatments, and a successful mass vaccination program. Public school districts and private academies across the country have accepted the fact that they will have to look beyond the fall when thinking about when to resume normal operations. We also have the influenza season to deal with as well as a potential spike of measles.
When we look at the successful program that the National Basketball Association undertook to resume the regular season along with playoffs and finals in the midst of the pandemic, we can asume that as long as the following measures implemented, SARS-CoV-2 will not spread:
- Initial quarantine.
- Complete isolation.
- Mask wearing and distancing in specific situations.
- Frequent testing.
- Restricted flow of visitors to the ESPN campus in Orlando.
The NBA success cannot be easily replicated because this is a professional sports league that is able to invest millions of dollars in order to generate millions in revenue. This is why we need to wait for widespread vaccine availability before we can declare victory over COVID-19, and this could take longer than initially expected. An optimistic forecast for a vaccine candidate getting approval will have us waiting until late 2020, which means that widespread vaccination and mass immunity may not happen until late 2021; this is when it would really be safe to go back to the classroom.
Tension Mounting Within Some Arts Education Programs
For students of the performing arts, the coronavirus pandemic has completely derailed their educational programs, and this includes film, dance, drama, and music. Some of the finest music schools in the U.S. have tried to accommodate to the new reality as much as possible, but academic and administrative staff know that their efforts will only take them so far. The prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, for example, moved as much of its curriculum online as possible, but this has not been sufficient in the eyes of academic directors who have tried their best to come up with ideas for rehearsals and recitals.
With regard to music and the rest of the performing arts, social distancing is a considerable obstacle that cannot be easily overcome. There have been reports about students changing their majors, freezing their studies for the time being, or adjusting their schedules so that they can complete as many classes online as possible before classrooms reopen.
Going Online to Get Through the Pandemic
Performing arts students and teachers have no choice but to be patient. Hitting the dance floor, taking the stage, going back to the film set, and holding recitals are activities that will have to wait. In the meantime, however, some students who have been forced to take a break from the classroom are finding online courses that are certainly worth pursuing. The Masterclass jazz sessions with Herbie Hancock, for example, are not purely anecdotal; they include a bit of music theory and a lot of inspiration that can actually be put into practice.
With regard to early music education, the pandemic has actually resulted in a boom for children who have been forced to spend more time at home. There are no justifications for sending children back to school during these trying times for public health; even though they are mercifully less likely to suffer the worst symptoms of COVID-19, they are still very much able to transmit the virus and spread it around their families and communities. Parents who are aware of the diminishing interest for music education in public school curricula are taking advantage of programs such as Prodigies Music, which focuses on early music instruction, to get their children interested in this pursuit.
The program developed by Prodigies Music has always focused on online delivery. Not all facets of music education can be adequately delivered at home and through the internet, but early music education is an exception. Our programs start with fun lessons adequate for students who can begin assimilating as soon as they start walking, and the focus is on music theory instead of social teaching. No instruments are required until children reach the age of three, which is when they can start learning to perform and practice C major exercises. By the time children have developed cognitive abilities corresponding to the age of four, they can star tackling sheet music.
Auditory development is crucial in music education, and this does not exclude children who live with hearing impairment as long as they can feel sound vibrations. The goal is not to turn children into accomplished musicians such as Alicia Keys, Yuja Wang, or John Coltrane; the goal is to foster an intellectual love for music that will make their lives more meaningful. The pillars of the Prodigies Music program are:
- Pitch: Developing a solid tonal center will unveil many of the secrets of music.
- Mental vocabulary: Music is an abstract concept, but it can come alive with motions, numbers, signs, and colors that are assigned to musical notes. This approach is a workout for the brain, and it helps children develop more sophisticated cognitive skills.
- Learning without errors: In early music education, a trained music teacher standing next to students is not required. Music theory does not have to be hard.
- Playful performance: Sparking the minds of children with music theory will push them towards instruments because they will see them as their favorite toys. When you see your toddlers taking desk bells or ukuleles to bed, you know that their love for music is increasing.
You have probably heard about the benefits that bilingual or multilingual language instruction has on young learners; a similar effect can be promoted through music education because of its multidimensional aspect. When learning foreign languages, children learn about different cultures, and this is a very valuable mind-opening exercise with lifelong benefits. In language acquisition, understanding is the key to learning, and this is similar to the auditory development goals of the Prodigies Music program. Music simply sounds much better when you can understand all its wonderful complexities and nuances.
Why Early Music Education Matters
Virtually all accomplished musicians will tell you that being surrounded by music during their childhood years was crucial to their careers. John Coltrane’s father, a tailor who was passionate about jazz, was a self-taught saxophone players who serenaded his son for fun. Linda Ronstadt’s parents constantly played AM radio programs when she was a little girl. Hopeton Overton Brown, the legendary Jamaican recording engineer known as “the Scientist,” was mystified by the radios that his father brought home to repair.
The name Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis may not ring any bells for classical music fans, but she is a neurologist and university professor who specializes in music cognition; she also happens to be a masterful pianist and occasional composer who credits all of her professional achievements to early education and her love of music. Dr. Margulis has written extensively about the crossroads of music and its effect on cognition. In her mind, music is a key that can unlock our cognitive potential.
There is no telling whether your child will ever become a professional musician, but this really doesn’t matter because there are many successful physicians, scientists, and even politicians who will tell you that music shaped their lives and their careers. What you really want for your child to gain from early music education is intellectual passion; in fact, if your child becomes a “music nerd,” his or her life will be all the better for it.