How Music Saved My Life, and Why Music Education Should Be Taken More Seriously

A few days ago I came across a story reported by Reuters that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez public music programs have taken 300,000 kids out of slums in a country with some of the “highest murder rates in the world.” I reminisced of how music saved my life.  I grew up in a middle class home with a family that made decent income, but the city was plagued with gang activity and poverty when I lived there.

I am not going to get into why I was drawn or curious about joining a gang because it really doesn’t matter. What is important is a gang member (who will remain anonymous) befriended me helped to save my life.  He saw what I didn’t.  He recognized that I had a gift for music.  He made me more street conscious, and made me smarter in that way.  Over the years I have been surprised by the people who I considered a friend and then turned to be the opposite. Instead of saying join me in my crusade of violence, my friend kept me away.  He had problems getting out, but thanks to my guitar playing, he kept me away from that life.

At the end of my freshman year of high school, my grandfather brought me my first nylon/classical guitar from Paracho, Mexico.  It was a mediocre instrument, good for a beginner.  In fact, if I tried to play it now, it’s so warped that after hitting a few notes it would sound like Arnold Schoenberg meets Henry Cowell, while attempting to play J.S. Bach. Sad!  That sad instrument became my life; it became my outlet to express my frustration with teenage life.  I took it everywhere, practiced everywhere and played for everyone. Like every other 15 year-old, my dream was to become a rock star.  I wanted to be like my guitar heroes Alex Skolnick (from Testament), and Marty Friedman (formerly from Megadeth).  Eventually, I became introduced to classical guitar music.

When I started to play, I hardly knew what classical music was, much less that music was specifically written for the classical guitar.  That all changed after seeing the legendary Romeros Guitar Quartet perform with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.  I was so blown away that after pleading with my family, I saw the Romeros perform at UTEP’s campus the very next day.  After attending both of these concerts, my life changed.  The next ten years of my life was devoted to learning to play the classical guitar.  Making a long story short; Eventually, I completed a Master’s degree in classical guitar performance.

I share this story only to highlight how music can save a person.  My passion for music saved me from premature death.

As I think about the state of music education in this country, it saddens me to know how little we appreciate the arts in the US.  The music education system has become a place that we consider an extra “thing” to do only for fun.  It isn’t.  If you have every played an instrument and poured your heart and soul into it, then you might understand what I am talking about.  Music provides an outlet giving direction to a child or adult during a time when none may exist.  Is it hard to play?  Sure it is.  Anything worth doing is hard, takes time and dedication, but has tremendous rewards.  Studying music also makes us more  cultured.

Understanding our cultural history is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Many of my current colleagues don’t know American music history.  If I asked, I doubt anyone could tell me who wrote Fanfare for the Common Man, or Porgy and Bess or In C.  (Fanfare for the Common Man was written by Aaron Copland, Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, and In C by Terry Riley.)  Unless you are blues fan, most folks don’t know that Robert Johnson transformed American music and is attributed for being an early influence in Rock music.  Could Generation Y or Millennials recognize that High School Musical wouldn’t have been possible without Rogers and Hammerstein?

I can dream about change, but we, as a society, need to determine what is important before change will happen.  We have a long way to go, but anything is possible once we set our minds to accomplish a goal.

Photo Source: Pandiyan

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One comment on “How Music Saved My Life, and Why Music Education Should Be Taken More Seriously
  1. Whether one agree’s with Mr. Chavez’s politics or not. I was thrilled to read that he *unlike his American counterpart* realizes the importance of music in children’s lives. The elimination of Music education in our schools was impetus enough for me as a citizen to organize and start a kids music program in my community “I’m With the Band” will give kids 6-17 years of age access to instruments and recording tools in schools, at the IWTB studio’s and at camps. You can also look forward to more showcasing opportunities of the IWTB students in and around the SF bay area. Viva Musica!

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