Once a part of the famous quadrivium, music has fallen upon hard times in what passes for our current “educational system.” For decades it played a vital role in the curriculum of the New York City schools, civilizing the newly arrived Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants and contributing immeasurably to the cultural life of the burgeoning metropolis. Today, the city’s schools are largely bereft of such mediating influences. But not all:
They’re hitting an academic high note. Students at a Manhattan public school spend more time practicing their piano and cello than hitting their textbooks — and still manage to drown out the competition in math and English.
The Special Music School at the Kaufman Music Center, which includes kindergarten through 12th grade, is the only city campus that makes music a core part of its curriculum. And its teachers credit the melody-making for their students’ chart-topping test scores.
Of the 32 schools in its Upper West Side district, SMS’s fourth- and seventh-graders posted the highest proficiency rates on recent state math exams and were second in English. The impressive numbers come a year after the school earned top ranking in the entire city in both categories, according to SMS officials.
With many city public school kids getting little to no formal musical instruction, SMS boosters say administrators should take a look at their success story — and stop viewing the subject as an extracurricular afterthought.
Well, duh. The so-called “Mozart Effect” is real, as any parent who’s tried it knows. Further (and I speak as a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, one of America’s top conservatories), most every accomplished and successful musician I know is multilingual — you have to be — and most are skilled at math as well; Einstein, for example, played violin in a string quartet, and the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Max Planck, was also an avid pianist, organist and cellist.
“Music is discipline,” said SMS senior Johanna Nelson, a pianist. “It teaches you how to focus, how to work with others. It’s a basis for learning that can be applied to everything.”
The competition to get into the school has become fierce. Its admissions office gets roughly 650 applications for a mere 15 kindergarten spots each year, staffers said. Student turnover is minuscule. SMS added its high school wing in 2013, and demand has already skyrocketed. Applicants’ auditions are one factor in acceptance, according to SMS teacher Vasu Panicker.
The diverse school is currently 45 percent white, 19 percent black, 17 percent Asian and 9 percent Latino.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother including the “diversity” stats, since they tend to be meaningless. But in this case, they’re relevant, because they show the catholicity of western classical music (see: Japan, China, Korea) and its beneficial effects on both the brain and the psyche.
Don’t think that, just because you don’t like it your kids won’t either. One of my first published books was Who’s Afraid of Classical Music and decades later, it’s still in print. Try it, you’ll like it. After all, if Mozart was good enough for this guy…
… it’s good enough for you.