Jean D. Lachowicz
My grammar school did not have a music program. On alternate Fridays, for about an hour, we would either have song books passed out at our desks so we could sing, or we had “art” class, which usually involved construction paper, crayons, and Elmer’s glue.
At home, we listened to music all the time, with records and radios playing constantly. I had a little battery-operated toy keyboard that was never far from my lap and I found an old pitch pipe that I’d play around with a lot as a kid. (I still have that pitch pipe and can still play “Happy Birthday” on it.)
I did not know that I was missing out on a real music education. I had no idea how music would have helped me through awkward and lonely times as I grew up (and alas there were plenty!), and I had no clue that music would have improved my brain in ways that would last my whole lifetime.
I grew up on the Southwest Side of Chicago and sure there were places I could have taken music lessons, but lessons were expensive and I never even thought of asking my parents to sign me up.
Happily, my high school had a robust choral program for sophomore through senior year, and I joined as soon as I possibly could. I loved the choir and loved my little stint with piano lessons offered by a retired nun deep in the bowels of the school’s music department. However by that time, I also began working part-time as a waitress in a coffee shop at the local mall, became editor of my school’s student newspaper, and found myself much more engrossed in the joys of LISTENING to music than in making my own music.
Full disclosure: while my high school did not have a band program, we did have a kazoo marching band for our annual homecoming touch football game. I was a proud member of the Queen of Peace High School Kazoo Band.
So it goes.
Fortunately, the music I loved most, by far, was Todd Rundgren’s. I lived it and breathed it and the complexity of the melodies and lyrics convinced me that music will always be an integral part of my being, just like breathing and eating.
Fast forward to 2015 and now I find myself immersed in the scientific, biological, neurological, social, economic, and cultural benefits of music education for the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. If Little Jeanie, struggling to figure out how to play songs on that pitch pipe, could have caught a glimpse of Big Jeanie’s passion for the moral imperative of music education, I’m pretty sure she would have spoken up and asked to take some lessons!
I reflect on my own musical journey not with regret but with conviction that music is an innate component of the human experience. A child must never be denied access to music education because of money or access or logistics. It’s too important and too good for kids to ever make it okay to deny them the opportunity. Music is every bit as important as reading, math, history, and science and should be given the same emphasis.
We are all born with a seed of music inside. Sometimes the seed lands in a sidewalk crack, with barely enough soil and water and sunshine to sprout. But it still somehow manages to grow and bloom. It is my hope that I am able to utilize my own experience of NOT having music education to help make sure the seeds of music in ALL children will be nurtured and cultivated, regardless of their life circumstances.
Plant a seed. See it grow.
Jean D. Lachowicz is Executive Director of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. For the past 30 years, she headed nonprofits specializing in youth development, social justice, and human services. She lives in Chicago, IL.