An active music life affirms the dignity of individuals and communities.
Access to and participation in an active music life is one way to affirm human dignity and to expand social, cultural, and educational inclusion. Music is not the only means of asserting dignity and inclusion, but it is an effective and compelling one, especially for the underserved city students who persistently face exclusion in their lives.
An active music life speaks directly to the educational goals as expressed in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to education. ... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship
– Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
+ Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
A fundamental characteristic of dignity is a sense of contributing and belonging. An active music life can affirm and reinforce these values by providing students a context in which they can be recognized, known, and heard. This sense of belonging-of being valued-can extend beyond the music classroom into students' relationships to school, community, and city. An active music life can also shape students' understandings of interdependence and equality. For example, making music as a group recognizes that each voice or instrument has responsibility and value to the group. Different voices may take on different roles at different times, but they are each necessary to and valued in the process of making music.
An active music life also promotes social and cultural inclusion for students and their families. Creating and performing music can literally give voice to the voiceless, especially those who are rarely listened to or acknowledged by society. Students can also enjoy opportunities that connect them to broader city and regional communities, widening both their physical and social experiences. Indeed, music can be a bridge that connects entire families to social and cultural spaces from which they might otherwise be or feel excluded. Simultaneously, larger communities can learn to hear and value the voices of social and cultural groups that have been historically excluded, marginalized and silenced.
+ The full development of the human personality
Education is not merely the distribution of information or the development of skills: it must address the whole person, including the intellectual, social, and emotional components of a person's development. One of the most powerful attributes of music is its connection to emotional expressivity, its capacity to convey emotions. Music can be a strong tool for social-emotional development. Making and creating music can be an expressive outlet and a positive way for students to explore and communicate their emotions. While an active music life should be prioritized for all students, it is especially powerful for the students who have consistently been denied a voice in society and who have not always enjoyed their full educational, social, and cultural rights.
An active music life can also promote students' sense of self-efficacy, the belief that they are capable of taking on a challenge and succeeding. Creating, practicing, and performing music develops skills-including discipline, perseverance, grit, and problem-solving-that support self-efficacy and confidence. The development of these skills is particularly vital for students who have been marginalized and excluded. Some students may discover that music is a particularly effective means for them to examine their identity, their life story, and their community. The development of self-identity is a key component in the successful transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially for the most deeply marginalized and under-served students in our cities.¹
+ Promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship
Active music-making with others requires collaboration, teamwork, and respect. Participants develop collegiality, a shared sense of responsibility in the group's work. Participants may also engage in mentor-mentee relationships, whether between teachers and their students or between more- and less -experienced students.
Group music-making also has the capacity to change how individuals perceive difference in others. Recent studies have drawn national attention to implicit bias, the "attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner."² Implicit bias is formed by "observation of who occupies valued roles and devalued roles in a community" -essentially, who is perceived to have dignity and who is not. Music may be a useful tool for combating implicit bias because it can physically gather diverse individuals for positive, intergroup contact. The process of making music as a group may rewire patterns of thinking, allowing students to develop positive unconscious associations about people whom they perceive as different.³ This kind of "de-biasing" may positively impact students' future interactions in school, the workplace, and society.
These are not the only arguments for access to an active music life. They simply outline the potent influence that an active music life can have at the individual and communal levels. The relationship between dignity and an active music life can be thought of as a “positive feedback loop” in which small positive changes feed back into the system to accelerate the rate and impact of change. Ultimately, an active music life has the potential to both affirm and inspire human dignity, leading to positive changes for individuals, schools, and communities.
¹ Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin, Coming of Age in the Other America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016), 66-67.
² Cheryl Staats, Kelly Capatosto, Robin A. Wright, and Danya Contractor, State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2015, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, www.kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/implicit-bias-review.
³ The Kirwan Institute authors note that “intergroup contact generally reduces intergroup prejudice” when individualsshare “equal status and common goals, a cooperative rather than competitive environment, [and] the presence of support from authority figures.” State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2015, 66.