“If the brain is a muscle, then learning to play an instrument and read music is the ultimate exercise.” At least that’s what was put forth in two new studies from the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. According to the article written by Emily Gersema, “‘[The] findings suggest that musical training is a powerful intervention that could help children mature emotionally and intellectually’”--among other benefits.
Each morning, students arrive at our schools, some emerging from buses, some from families’ cars, many toting instrument cases--everything from flutes to French horns to bass trombones (in the latter case toting might become lugging). It’s exciting to know that these students will have an opportunity in the day to play those instruments, especially in band or orchestra settings where they become part of something larger than themselves. Whether our students intend to major in music, to grow their talents to personal satisfaction, to simply participate in chorus, band, orchestra, or to pursue extracurricular ensemble groups from a cappella to jazz, we know through research that the simple act of studying music increases cognitive development that, in turn, supports all learning.
When I came to Hopkinton, just a little over three years ago, Mr. Hay shared that his goal in assuming the position of Hopkinton Public Schools Music Director was to grow our programs, and he’s done just that.
Today we have over 1100 students participating in either band, orchestra or chorus in grades 5-12. The Middle School orchestra program has doubled in size, and this year over 200 Hopkins students will be starting instruments. At the High School, the band and the chorus have seen enrollment increase to record numbers and the orchestra continues to grow at a steady rate.
A good problem to have, that is until the sixth grade musicians try to hold a performance. Our 6th grade ensembles and families didn't fit into the auditorium last year for their performances. So, the Music Department had to get creative by developing a "working rehearsal" performance for the parents in three different locations and by holding a concert in the Hopkinton High School Athletic Center. While these venues were able to hold our participants and families, the acoustics in the Athletic Center were a challenge, as it’s nearly impossible for musicians to hear and respond to each other, a key part of the communication that occurs during ensemble performance. Nevertheless, it worked. At least for now.
The numbers come with other challenges as well--one of which is ensuring that every student has access to an instrument. Mr. Hay shared that over the last five years, the Hopkinton Public Schools have increased their instrument inventory through a donation program, through gifts from the Hopkinton Music Association, and with the assistance of David French Music.
Here is what the schools have received through just through the donation program:
3 Alto Saxophones
12 Bell/Percussion kits
Mr. Hay was happy to report that every single one of those instruments is in the hands of students and being used on a daily basis. What people may not realize is that musical instruments are expensive--very expensive. For example: a new baritone saxophone is well over $5000 and tubas can cost as much as $7000.
I’m sharing this blog today to illustrate for families that while it may feel that programming could be compromised due to rapid enrollment or space limitations, it has not. And it hasn’t because we have teachers and volunteers in Hopkinton who think creatively and who access resources that come to us from the generosity of this community.
So as you endure those early screeches on violin or frequent squeaks on saxophone, know that your young musician’s brain is being altered in great ways. Play on. Play on.
Thank you to our music educators and families. Proud to be here in Hopkinton. Every day.