I attended my son’s first orchestra concert at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology last weekend, and I was blown away by it.
My son, a Fargo South High graduate, played in school orchestra from fifth through 12th grade, was a six-year member of the FM Area Youth Symphonies, and took years of private violin lessons from FM Symphony Concertmaster Benjamin Sung. He had a lot invested in the violin, and I did, too.
Upon arriving at college, he decided he was not going to play his violin in the orchestra at SDSM&T. I was devastated. He had put in years of his short life to this instrument, and I believed that if he put it down now, he might never pick it up.
Because he has an academic bent, I began to look for any article I could find on why music was so important for students studying in the sciences.
It wasn’t hard to find evidence to support my belief. You don’t have to look too hard to find studies showcasing the incredible benefits of the arts, but I want to highlight a few of the reasons I pushed so hard for my son to continue playing. I believe these skills are taught in all the performing arts, and that all who are exposed to the arts will be better students, better employees and better community members because of these skills:
• Collaboration: If you don’t play in rhythm, in tune, in harmony and with an ear toward your stand partner, the whole is weakened. Even a solo line is dependent upon the rest of the players to support it.
• Independence: Listen to your stand partner all you want, you still have to physically create your own sound. You still have to own the notes and your ability to play them.
• Focus: Have you ever looked at orchestral sheet music? Violins play a lot of notes and often very fast. There’s no time to let your mind wander through a Mozart piece; your eyes must stay trained on the sheet music and your brain must be engaged the whole time.
• Confidence: Playing in an orchestra, singing in a choir or performing with a group of actors or dancers is an acquired skillset that comes with time. I have watched my son’s personal confidence grow over his years as a player. He has gone from the back row to concertmaster of multiple groups. He plays with a confident grace now, where before he had a timidity about his ability.
• Dedication: Very few people wake up able to play an instrument. Most people have to practice for years and years, meticulously going over lines of music again and again, ingraining them into their brains and their fingers. Playing an instrument is a life-long practice in getting better.
• Problem-solving: How do you make that long string of fast 16th notes work? How do you figure out a tricky rhythm? You have to break it down to its smallest parts. You have to slow it down, you have to write out the steady beats, you have to count out loud. There’s a reason many musicians are also good mathematicians.
• Accountability: To play in an orchestra or perform with a group means you are making a commitment to attending rehearsals, practicing on your own and being at the performances. Your actions directly affect the success of everyone else.
Of course, there are countless other skills that come from being in the arts, but this list is a good beginning of skills that employers are looking for and entrepreneurs need.
It’s important to not dismiss the other qualities that being in the arts also provides: A sense of joy and wonder at the genius of composers. The thrill of the audiences’ immediate reaction to the performance. The rush of playing that difficult string of notes correctly for the first time. The communal experience of being in the presence of live theater, music and dance. No single concert or performance is ever the same, and the audience is an integral piece of that.
I won’t apologize for sort of bullying my son back into orchestra. He re-experienced all those feelings last week when he successfully played the difficult music and the audience positively responded to the concert. All that while he is keeping his brain charged for the current and future physics and math work that he will do. That’s a pretty amazing investment.
Photo of Quinn Del Val and the 9th grade Fargo South High orchestra. 2011.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, April 27, 2015, issue of the paper.