Music Education: How Learning a Tune Can Pay Off

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Cellist Allegra Montanari decided to pursue music as a career while she was in high school. Sharing Notes, the nonprofit she started, provides free music performances for patients at Prentice Women’s Hospital — Lurie Cancer Center in Chicago.

Chance the Rapper and Riccardo Muti might have different tastes in music, but both are leading the charge to educate Chicago youth on musical arts.

Chancelor Bennet – or Chance – with a net worth estimated at $9 million, and Muti, who earns $1.58 million annually as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director, can afford to share their pots of gold and they are doing so by supporting performing arts programs in the Chicago Public Schools. In September, a charity led by Chance announced it would provide 20 Chicago Public Schools with $100,000 for three years of performing arts education support. Meanwhile, under the direction of Muti and creative consultant Yo-Yo Ma, the Negaunee Music Institute affiliated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra provides 40 school concerts annually to 40,000 children at 125 schools, 300 in-school programs and training for teachers, artists and volunteers.

Why teach music in the public schools?

Music combines art, science, math and language. Public schools should expand their music programs, local musicians say, because the discipline involved with learning to play an instrument is a skill that will help students regardless of what they end up studying. The “practice makes perfect” lesson most musicians understand applies to many areas of study.

“I got a prize in middle school. It caused me to say, ‘Hey maybe I’m pretty good at this,'” said Evanston flutist Caroline Pittman. “I got lessons from a real flute teacher in 9th grade and became pretty good.” Pittman has a master’s degree in music and has performed internationally.

Cellist Allegra Montanari also chose her career based on her experience with music in high school. “I decided to make it my profession pretty much at the end of high school,” she said. Montanari, who has degrees from Indiana University and Roosevelt University in Chicago, is the founder and executive director of Sharing Notes, a nonprofit that provides free music performances to hospital patients. “It has become my primary way of connecting with people,” she said.

An investment in music education can help sustain an interest in music for future generations. “I went to Interlochen arts camp after my junior year of high school. I had never played in an orchestra of that caliber,” said violinist Elizabeth Brausa Brathwaite, who has degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Minnesota. “It was kind of life changing. [I said] I think this is what I want to do. This is by far the most moving experience for me.”

— Ann Meyer

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