I know from experience the power and significance a music class in school can have. I plucked a string on the viola for the first time in the fourth grade, and as a senior in high school, it has continued to play a role in my life. And although practicing for half an hour every day often got on my nerves, I felt its heavy absence in my life when I moved to a school with no music program. Now, I am involved in a community orchestra, and I am learning how to play bluegrass fiddle. Learning about music has added confidence and discipline to my life, and it has been a comfort on the hard days.
I spent a month in Montego Bay, Jamaica last summer visiting schools and orphanges, and a vast majority of the kids I met there loved music. In places where kids had been through unspeakable crises, music was more than a fun pastime - it eased their burdens and helped them to realize they weren't alone. When we sang with the children, we connected on such a deep level. Music was something that reached right across racial and class barriers and bonded us all.
But many of the schools in Jamaica are poorly funded. One school we visited housed over 200 students in grades one through nine in two modest buildings with classrooms separated by chalkboards. The kids were doing well to have paper and pencils. Computers were seen as a luxury, and a music education program was unheard of. Aside from a small school-wide choir (we heard them at the sixth grade promotion ceremony, and they were beautiful), none of the students had a chance to learn music.
At one orphanage we visited, the situation was even worse. There were barely enough dedicated women to care for the children, and school-aged kids were taught in a single classroom. But when we sang and danced with the kids, their eyes lit up.
What if friends in the States raised enough money and awareness to bring the gift of music to well-deserving students at just one school in Montego Bay? How would that change their communities? These are questions that have been tumbled around in my head for some time now.