Three Things Music Education Did For Me #BecauseOfArtsEd

September 4, 2016

Think about the moments you felt your worst, your best, your funniest, worriedest [yes, I said worriedest] or angriest; where does your mind go first? For me, it’s to a song or an experience I associate with music. The power of music cannot nor should not be underestimated. It helped my ancestors communicate through the Underground Railroad for freedom; it is a healing agent to the body, mind, and soul. The beauty of art is that it speaks to different people in different ways. Art—more specifically, music—intertwines with every part of my life.

Professionally, I do outreach and legislative work for an independent think tank. I know you're wondering where the connection may be, but there are more parallels between art and effective policy work than most realize.

When it comes to education, music has always been essential component of learning for me—whether it’s reading sheet music, learning about life, or discovering more about myself and others. Music became a part of me before I could even talk. When I was an infant, my parents learned the hard way that I couldn't live without music—considering that they spent an entire road trip from Oklahoma to California listening to M C Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" to keep me from crying profusely. In the church, I was the 5-year-old kid who had her one-line solo debut on Easter Sunday. I was the adolescent taking piano lessons (I regret dropping out) and singing in the local pageants.

My formal, vocal music education started in Mrs. Debbie Wood's 7th grade vocal music class. She saw something special in me and helped me transition from singing the right notes to making music through song. Because of her coaching, I later became a 5 time All-State vocalist and spent two summers at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute in Quartz Mountain. I even started my time at Oklahoma City University as a music major—until I found out that I had nodules. That's when I switched majors and used my voice to sing at church or with Tyrone Stanley and the Wings of Harmony.

Although my life goals involving professional music changed, the skills I learned because of music education remain embedded in my life. There are three things that music education taught me that is essential to policy and outreach work. Music education helped me:

  • To Feel. Maya Angelou said it best: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s true in both music and advocacy. My work involves an influx of complicated numbers, data, and dense research that very few will remember. But, just as in music, you have to tell a story that is meaningful and related to a shared experience in order to move people. Implicitly, it’s easy to see populations and data points instead of neighbors and fellow human beings. The same way you bring a sheet of notes to life through experiences, tones, and dynamics is the same way that you connect humanity, mutual values, and hope to make research resonate with decision makers.
  • To Unify. Just as there is no “I” in chorus, there’s no “I” in change. The best singer in the world cannot create a harmonious sound without other voices around her. In policy work, I learned that it takes blending and adjusting with other advocates through collaborative strategies and compromise in order to create a harmonious approach to better public policy.
  • To Escape. In order give your best, you must take care of yourself and your instrument. Music has always been a part of my self-care regimen. Issue advocacy and policy work is daunting at times. It requires some degree of sacrifice emotionally, physically, and financially. When I get overwhelmed or stressed out, I turn to my favorite song for relaxation and motivation. When I lost my step brother seven years ago, I turned to music to help me cope. I wrote a song that I even found strength to sing at his funeral. When I get writer’s block, I turn on the right playlist to get my thoughts flowing. When I lose hope, my gospel music reminds me to keep going. Music will forever be my outlet for expression.

I may not sing for a living, but I use my music education every day. Knowing how to feel, unify, escape matters to success in my career as much as my political science classes. I wouldn’t trade what I learned from music education and my experiences for anything.

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