The nationwide shutdown during the pandemic forced everyone into hiding. The only interaction with the outside world was through our devices. Education institutions scrambled to provide meaningful instruction online. I remember teaching instrumental music lessons in my garage, while my wife was teaching Phys Ed in the family room and my three kids were online-learning in their bedrooms. Stress levels increased and most of our students missed the social aspect of education. One of my daughters missed their entire middle school years. No after-school activities, eight grade dances, sports, or concerts. I witnessed what my family went through and I can imagine the scene was similar in households across the world. During the isolation, people experienced emotional exhaustion and, as a result, lost touch with their friends (Jo et. al., 2021).
Since returning from the virtual environment, I have seen a change in students' behavior, self-esteem, and social skills. There is a strong need for positive emotional support for students, a place where they can build positive relationships and learn how to communicate again. The Performing Arts offer the perfect environment for students to experience all of those opportunities. Although all art forms can be communicative, music may be particularly well suited for supporting communication (Boster et. al, 2021). Playing music with other people requires so much communication. Members need to discuss what emotion this piece is trying to convey to its audience. Members have to realize where the melody is and how their part fits in with the whole sound. Not only is there verbal communication, but musicians communicate with their instruments to give auditory cues to others. Musicians have to actively listen to other voices in the ensemble to make sure their sound is blended.
St-Amand, Bowen, and Lin (2017) identified four defining attributes of student belonging; the student must: (1) sense a positive emotion toward the school; (2) maintain positive social relationships with members of the school community; (3) be actively involved in the classroom and in school activities; (4) perceive a certain synergy (harmonization), even similarity, with teachers and peers. Taking part in the performing arts, whether it is in a musical, the band or choir addresses each of these four attributes. When the marching band goes to a competition, the students cheer loudly for other groups, they find students in the other bands that play their instruments or are in their section. They share stories, exchange contact information, and stay in touch. The same happens when the concert band or choir goes to a festival where other groups are performing. A positive attitude toward school and learning would lead to students’ better achievement and success in unexpected ways (Hui, 2022).
There are many different ways to experience the Performing Arts in school. It begins at the elementary level with general music classes. In the fifth grade, students can join the band and choir. Middle school offers the chance to be involved with a musical, and experience music creation through technology. The band and choir programs expand to offer more opportunities to make music with ensembles like select choirs, jazz band, and marching band. High school opens the door to experience even wider. Students who play modern instruments like guitar, bass, and drumset can take classes to learn more about the music business, recording, and marketing. Students can learn to play piano and guitar, and learn the language of music with music theory classes. So no matter what musical tastes students have, there is a place for them to learn and play music with others who share the same passion.
Villodre (2017) studied the impacts of music ensembles used as a tool to improve socio-emotional health. The results showed that students were happier and felt closer to their peers after participating in music ensembles. When a child succeeds in the musical performance of instrument playing or chorus singing, self-esteem will be enhanced (Hui, 2022). Collective music-making may encourage social cohesion and promote group togetherness (Robinson, 2008). In my twelve years of experience as a music teacher, I have seen the effects of belonging to a supportive, nurturing, fun environment. I have witnessed students that do not talk in the hallways and avoid eye contact, change into outgoing sociable people the instant they enter the band room. Our child study team approached me one year and said they had a student who I will call Pat, that did not like coming to school and the counselors were looking for an activity for them to get involved in that would give them something to look forward to during the school day. The counselor had noticed in most of their meetings that Pat was always tapping on the table, chair, or desk. The child study counselor asked Pat if they liked music. Pat responded saying they always wanted to learn the drums, so Pat was registered for concert band and marching band. I began teaching Pat the proper techniques for playing percussion and they were responsive and were able to play pretty well. What was incredible to watch was how the students who were already in the ensemble welcomed Pat into the group and included them in everything. The transformation of this student was incredible. Pat spent two years in the band program. I watched Pat grow out of their shell and tell jokes. Pat had made some great friends in the percussion section and at graduation, the child study counselor and Pat approached me and thanked me for everything I did. I did not feel like I did anything out of the ordinary. I taught and treated Pat like I would any other student. Osterman (2000) stated that instrumental music participation requires a group effort that brings about positive relationships. It was the community of people and the power of making music that created the environment that allowed for Pat’s transformation to happen.
The world has seemed to change since the pandemic. Our students are looking for a place to make connections and find a place to discover who they are. The Performing Arts has many of the components built in to create a welcoming environment, where students feel safe to take risks. An environment where everyone shares a common goal and supports each other in accomplishing those goals. It is never too late to begin learning about music. All you have to do is walk into your school's band, choir, or music room and start making music.
Boster, J. B., Spitzley, A. M., Castle, T. W., Jewell, A. R., Corso, C. L., & McCarthy, J. W. (2021). Music Improves Social and Participation Outcomes for Individuals With Communication Disorders: A Systematic Review. Journal of Music Therapy, 58(1), 12–42. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/thaa015
Hui, S. F. (2022). The benefits of participation in school extra music activities as seen by Hong Kong primary school students aged 9-12. https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.859708
Jo, J. K., Harrison, D. A., & Gray, S. M. (2021). The ties that cope? Reshaping social connections in response to pandemic distress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(9), 1267–1282. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000955
St-Amand, J., Bowen, F., & Lin, T. W. J. (2017). Le sentiment d’appartenance à l’école : une analyse conceptuelle. Canadian Journal of Education, 40(1), 1–32.
Susan Hallam, & Evangelos Himonides. (2022). The Power of Music : An Exploration of the Evidence. Open Book Publishers.
Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research 70, 323-367
Robinson, J. (2008, January 1). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Levitin, Daniel j. JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS AND ART CRITICISM, 66(1), 91–94.
Villodre, M. del M. B. (2017). Music Education as a Tool to Improve Socio-emotional and Intercultural Health within Adverse Contexts in El Salvador. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 237, 499–504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2017.02.098