Last summer I had one of the best weeks of my adult life. I went on an awesome adventure, but it didn’t involve travel to an exotic locale. I was just a couple of miles from my house, at the music department of UNC-Chapel Hill. I participated as a student in the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop.
Music, a common language, and shared passion
This was an intensive week of practical studies for musicians ranging in age from middle school through well into adulthood. Dr. Stephen Anderson, the program’s director, said, “It may be that around 80% of participants will not go into music professionally. But we teach them as if they are. It’s a week of serious attention to gaining the skills you need to improvise well.”
Studying with these kids reminded me of my childhood, and how blessed I was that my parents exposed me to music from a young age. Music gives you so much. In group playing, you’re living in the moment, creating beautiful sounds with others; this teaches you to listen, to really listen.
It teaches you discipline; you learn that by focusing Monday through Thursday, you get to put on a great show Friday. This helps you become a confident person.
Music helps raise your scores in school. That should get some parents’ attention. Studies repeatedly find that music training is positively associated with more complex brain development, higher school achievement and a host of other gauges of long-term social, economic and emotional well-being.
Closing the opportunity gap
I was lucky as a kid. Our public schools had well-funded music programs, and my family could afford private lessons. But what of students who are not as fortunate? Luckily, here in the Triangle, there is a program called KidzNotes, a “music for social change” program based on the El Sistema model of youth orchestras. Kidznotes engages students in an intense musical program that includes instrumental instruction, choir, music theory, general music, orchestra, and band.
Rob Gofourth, a VP at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), serves as Chairman of the Board of KidzNotes. “There’s a misconception that KidzNotes is about music. What it’s actually about is closing the opportunity gap. We provide the disciplined exposure to music education and performance typically available only to families of financial means.”
KidzNotes Community Impact
KidzNotes partners with eleven Title-1 public schools in Durham and Southeast Raleigh. “As extensive research has shown, children living in Title-1 communities often lack the social, emotional and intellectual skills to start kindergarten on an equal footing with their more affluent peers,” notes Gofourth. “By the third grade, many have been unable to master basic reading and math skills.”
But there is great news. A recent study prepared by Duke University showed that kids participating in KidzNotes achieved test scores 50% higher than their local peer group, and 25% higher than all of the Triangle’s public schools.
Through immersion in ensembles and orchestras, children are developing crucial social skills for success. Parents have reported that participation in Kidznotes increases their children’s enjoyment of reading, and their excitement about attending school. KidzNotes kids have fewer days of absence than their peers who don’t participate in the program.
“There’s a misconception that KidzNotes is about music. What it’s actually about is closing the opportunity gap. We provide the disciplined exposure to music education and performance typically available only to families of financial means.”
Blue Cross NC is proud to support KidzNotes as part of our mission to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians. Here’s a great documentary about some of the KidzNotes kids, a Telly award winner called “The Music Inside.”
And if you’re interested in dusting off that musical instrument tucked away in your attic, don’t let age be a barrier to joy. Here’s a video about the UNC Summer Jazz Workshop: