Cultural Apathy and the Benefits of Music

With all sorts of unreasonable extra expenses being foisted on South Africans, such as the unconstitutional e-tolls, the Wonder of Nkandla (one doesn’t have to wonder where the funds for this private homestead were embezzled), sky-rocketing food price hikes and the ever-climbing fuel price (of which a hefty proportion is levied to “recover” the e-tolling system), I noticed something very sad among parents and school-going students.

Cultural apathy.

Schools push for sport, sport, sport; I suspect this goes paired with hefty subsidies for “winning” schools.  Music, drama and art have been squished, via our govt, into one single subject and minimized as far possible:  “Arts and culture”.  Looking at the syllabus of the various grades (already for years), I spot a lot of costume-making, African dance, collages and making up rain songs in this subject (nothing wrong with any of these); but as to classical music theory and practice, close to nil.

I would like to alert my fellow European and African citizens of South Africa to an interesting development in China:

80 million classical concert pianists.

Eighty million.  That is, 1.6 TIMES as many concert pianists as South Africa has… people.

If you ask these eighty million whether they find the classical music too “Eurocentric” the response will probably be loud laughter.  China is fast becoming (or is already?  Update me pls) the wealthiest nation on Earth.  They have the highest amount of graduates, well-educated people; professionals; etc.  And of course concert pianists.

A concert pianist is someone who makes a professional living (and not a bad one) by playing public concerts.  He is also a person who has invested 10 000 practice hours or more into his art.

If eighty million Chinese people invest 10 000 hours of their youth (because they are professional at the latest by age 20) into the Eurocentric art of playing classical piano,

How can you defend European-descended South Africans letting go of their inherited culture?

How was China closer to classical music than Holland, in the 1800’s?

You need to understand that classical music is not European heritage any longer (though we can still be proud it originated in our country of origin).  It is by now World heritage.  And the Chinese, with their brilliant minds, are helping themselves to their fair share of it with gusto, because they understand its merits.

It isn’t only pretty.

Classical music, and learning a classical instrument, has merits far beyond aesthetics.

Manfred Spitzer, a German neurologist, highlights the importance of learning a musical instrument early in life. (Those of you who understand German, I linked to the Youtube presentation.)  There are various points he makes, the most pertinent being:

  • It strengthens the self-image, and therefore the “I can” attitude.

What do children mostly get in school?  Tests, and marks.  More importantly, the marking is usually negative.  This leads to a general feeling that one cannot ever achieve it all, especially in children who are fairly “average”.  A ‘C’ means that you have only understood about half of what is going on; or that your brain keeps tripping you up by making mistakes and costing you that mark – and that recognition from adults that children crave.  (They do crave it. Don’t be fooled by the teenage “I don’t care” culture.)

Playing those little concerts before friends, family and others, at the end of the short performance the child harvests  applause.  What is applause?  It is approval from adults.  The child gets the feedback:  I can do this!  This works!  I can achieve this.

That alone spurs young musicians to doing better in all other subjects.  The apathy “I can never win” that the negative marking system in schools breeds, is conquered by the “I can do this if I try harder” attitude.

This is perhaps the most important point Manfred Spitzer makes to this topic (he also shows, in related videos, neuronal growth in brains).

However, what remedial teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists, speech therapists and many other professionals all know:  Music is a fantastic remedial tool for any kind of disability – and a wonderful booster for those who have none.

Some of these benefits, summarized in the Review by Iain Rossouw, “The Benefits of Music“, include:

Physical:

  • Improved physical stamina
  • Upper-body muscle tonus
  • improved fine-coordination
  • Hand-eye-ear coordination
  • strength (!)

Mental-physical:

  • Improved focus (quality and duration)
  • Multitasking
  • Improved accuracy, both muscular and sensory
  • Problem-solving on-the-run
  • Improvements in speech impediments

Emotional:

  • Increased resilience
  • Mastering nervousness & stage fright
  • Improved self-image
  • Better emotional balance
  • Better expression to emotion
  • Improved communication skills
  • Overcoming shyness

Other commonly observed effects:

  • Improved marks in school
  • Leadership traits
  • IQ measurably increases (up to even 12 points)

 

Such are the benefits of music on a child practising.   If you could wrap 12 IQ points into a package and give them to your child as a gift, would you?  I bet you would!  That is exactly what learning music, and specifically the bowed strings (violin, viola and cello) do for your child.  

But it goes beyond this.  How do you, as an adult, nurture your culture?

Do you have paintings (or at least prints) of the great masters around your house?  Do you read the great writers and occasionally even the poets?  Do you listen to great music around the home and in the car (102.7 is Classic FM, by the way – encourage them to play more music and have fewer talk shows, we can get talk shows on any channel)?  Do you visit the local concerts and plays when they are going, and at least try to get a ticket for Andre Rieu and his orchestra when they are in the country?

Or is television the whole of your entertainment menu?  😦

Culture needs to be nurtured, taken care of.  A “cultured” man or woman is regarded even one-up from a “highly educated” one.

Start small.  Once a month, do something “cultural”.  Visit an art exhibition.  Go watch a play.  Listen to a lunch hour concert – they still hold them regularly on Thursdays at noon, at the University of Pretoria.

And allow your children to learn instruments.  Insist that they put in the work, the practice.  Get your money’s worth – this you do by making them practise.  Those who practise, progress.  You’ll have given them more than IQ points.  You’ll have opened the door for them to a culture they can cherish.

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