When your head is buried in music credits and metadata and your eyes have burned into your computer screens (yes, musicians usually have several going at once) for weeks on end, sometimes you just need feedback on what you're doing from someone more real than the voice at the other end of a Skype call. At least that's the case for me. So, I decided to call my good friend and fellow musical colleague Tina Curtis to ask what her eighth grade choir students were doing in their morning class on Thursday, and if I could come by to ask them some questions.
A little background on Tina's students at Frost Middle School in Granada Hills, California and how I know them: just several weeks ago, Tina called me in a pinch to fill in when her regular school accompanist dropped out of both a music festival and their spring concert. I happily obliged, as it would give me reason to get me out of my "cave" (music friends understand what this is). I met the kids for the first time in the rehearsal room before the festival, and although I know it was nerve wracking for them to get a fill-in pianist last minute, they won Gold at the festival, and their female soloist won Best Overall Soloist as well. I was thrilled for my friend Tina, who has built the program over the course of the last three years, without any program to "take over" or for the kids to model. She started from scratch, got the parents and school to support the music programs she wanted to build – and the music kids in return have become a source of pride for the school and community. Their spring concert was like a rock concert, with friends and families in the audience, three camera video set-up, rhythm section, set, props, and choreography – all from private help to the school via the parents. It was truly special to be part of, and there were times you couldn't hear over all the screams of support.
So Thursday, I went to see these kids and ask them about music. In class that day there were a total of thirty-five students, from both the choir and the percussion ensemble programs. I had fifteen questions (well, actually seventeen, but I called the extra two "bonuses") written down to ask them, which I'd constructed to really find out what music means to them and what value they gave it in their life. To my delight and surprise, they loved talking about the subject and weren't scared to share some pretty emotional insights in front of their peers. It was actually a very mature atmosphere and everyone in the room willingly participated in the dialog.
Here are their astounding eighth-grade answers.
Q1: a. How many hours a day do you listen to music?
A1: a. 5 hours, 3 hours, 7 hours, 2 hours, 4 hours, and 8 hours.
b. Why do you listen to music instead of doing something else with that time?
b. It keeps me in a happy mood; it helps my emotions; it helps me focus; it cures my boredom; it motivates me; it can change my mood from bad to good.
Q2: What's your favorite kind of music to listen to and why?
A2: Rock and Punk, the Beatles, everything 60's, Alternative, Classical, Rap, happy or original; music lifts me up (classical) or helps me match my mood (punk).
Q3: Do you remember the first piece of music you ever heard and what it was?
A3: My mom used to sing songs; Russian music; the Beatles; Church; Michael Jackson; Country; KROQ; Glory; 80's Music; Latest hits.
Q4: What kind of medium did you first hear music on? (radio, computer, etc.).
A4: Car radio (most everyone), vinyl LP, and iPad.
Q5: Do your parents like music? Do they listen to music a lot? Do you go to live music concerts with them?
A5: 100% of parents like music; majority listen to it a lot; majority goes to concerts.
Q6: When you like a song or piece of music and play it over and over, what makes you keep playing it? What do you like about it?
A6: Like figuring out what instruments are being used (most); voice and lyrics (also most); beat, rhythm, and harmony.
Q7: How does listening to or performing music make you feel?
A7: Confident (most); Energetic; Motivated; Excited; Intense; Nervous before, happy at the end.
Q8: How do you learn about music to listen to in general – on or through what?
A8: Instagram (most); on the computer; friends, siblings, or parents; social media; tumbler; playlists; music.ly (an app).
Q9: How do you learn about the songwriters or the musicians who play on the music that you like?
A9: Can't find out usually (most).
Q10: Would you like to know more about who wrote, played or performed on the music that you like? And if yes, why? Do you know what liner notes are? Do you know what credits are?
A10: Yes (most); it's always good to learn new information about your favorite songs; no (and only 1 girl knew what liner notes were); credits are at the end of a movie to tell you people's names.
NOTE: I DID explain to them what liner notes and music credits were after they answered this, and they wanted them.
Q11: How many of you like to sing?
Q12: How many of you play an instrument too?
A12: About 80%
Q13: Is music something that is "valuable" to you?
A13: Yes, 100%
Q14: What if music didn't exist or wasn't in your life?
A14: there wouldn't be any culture; you couldn't express yourself; I would be a monochromatic person; I couldn't express or relate to anything; I wouldn't be myself; I wouldn't know how to deal with anything in life; it's the only subject that teaches you about life in school – in math class it's supposed to teach you how to get a job, but it doesn't teach you how to talk to people.
Q15: If you had only $5 a week in allowance (and all your basic needs for food and shelter were met), would you spend any of it on music if that was the only way you could have access to it?
A15: 100% would spend all $5 on buying music; some said they would want it for free but would pay for it out of their allowance if it wasn't.
About ten kids (out of thirty-five) wanted to be musicians.
To share music; because it's second nature; to express my feelings to people; I like seeing all the people at your concert making you feel loved.
Why is learning music important even if you don't want to be a musician? What one non-musical thing have you learned from music class that you don't get anywhere else?
Getting to know each other; sharing new music with each other; teamwork; you won't get anywhere if you don't practice or work for it; just do it; to always have fun; being a bigger/better person; once in a lifetime experience; cherish each moment; confidence and teamwork; can't learn life skills in any other class; having it on your record will be good when applying to college; having amazing memories.
I hope it speaks the same to you, too.
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Christy Crowl is the Founder of ProMusicDB.org, a member of Grammy-winning band Mannheim Steamroller, and passionate advocate for musicians in the digital world. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.