The War On Music Education…

…Or “Maybe things aren’t all that bad in the United States, after all.”

While browsing for music ed news this weekend, I stumbled across a pretty depressing item from Kuwait. Essentially, a hardline Islamist MP is taking the government to task over their recent decision to make music education a compulsory part of the Kuwaiti curriculum. Mohammed Hayef has said that unless the schools revert to the old system, where music was an elective and not a requirement, he and his party will submit a bill in an attempt to ban music from schools completely.

Talk about culture shock. If a similar measure were even discussed in most other countries, an angry mob bearing pitchforks and torches would likely appear in the streets of the capital. Music is such an important part of cultures around the world, that it’s impossible to fathom music being banned from schools. Funding may be cut when times are tough, but an outright ban, to say that students can not participate in music even if the resources exist, is unthinkable.

Badrya Darwish of the Kuwait Times has published an excellent rebuttal to Hayef. She feels that banning music would essentially destroy a large part of Kuwaiti culture. Students across the country would not be taught about a large part of their cultural history, and would begin to lose their cultural identity.

It’s interesting that humans tend to place such a high premium on creativity and innovation, yet the very classes that help foster these traits—visual arts, writing, music, etc.—are often the first on the chopping block and are such a heated point of contention. Cuts to the creative areas of a curriculum are bad enough, but threatening an outright ban seems like a step toward a cultural Dark Age for Kuwait.

I’m going to make sure to keep tabs on this particular story. It’s entirely possible that Hayef has underestimated the power of music and could face a serious outcry from citizens should he go through with his plans. Outlawing something that tends to help give people a sense of cultural uniqueness is never a good idea.

A quick look back through history would show Hayef that music was not solely used for entertainment, but for protest and activism as well. Shostakovich was famously denounced twice for compositions that the ruling Soviet regime found to be subversive. Victor Jara and Quilapayun used their music—specifically, ¡El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!—to speak out against Augusto Pinochet.

Music is a powerful voice, I doubt Hayef will be able to completely silence it in Kuwait.


One thought on “The War On Music Education…

  1. It is in no way comforting to learn that the ills of Western society are being met with the same welcomeness and fervor that its proposed opportunities and advancements are met with. Sadly, many of Western Culture’s ills have stemmed from a weakening cultural identity: the vast melting pot of American lore.

    In American Music’s own history we see this process repeated time and again. The Tin Pan Alley era of popular music between 1880 and 1950, the use of Cover Records to distort an original work of art into a more acceptable form of expression for the majority market, and the presence of Payola schemes all worked to stifle the voice and imaginative voices of the original musicians.

    Abroad, as Joe has mentioned, Shostakovich and Victor Jara have been victims using their art as freedom of expression. The Nazi regime attempted to silence any music that was not representative of their cultural ideals. The very reason why Paul Hindemith composed Mathis der Maler and caused personalities like Stravinsky to flea to America. Mozart was nearly condemned for composing a precious few opuses away from a major tonality, and even Hildegard of Bingen faced sexist trials and tribulations as her work yearned to be heard.

    Add to music’s innate cultural and historical importance its employment as both a call to arms and reform; and a tool of intolerance and oppression, and we’re faced with an incredibly powerful entity that has not only helped shape the events of mankind, but has been manipulated and used for both public and personal gain. Whether it was the use of cordial dance to establish and maintain a strict noble hierarchy in the 17th Century French Kingdoms or a tool of war, badgering the Vietnamese with American Rock and Roll in the 1970s, Music has staked its claim to the most noted moments of human history. To deny this reality is likely akin to deny our very history, likely our very existence.

    That is not to say the physical cosmos would implode without the presence of musical tone and beat. However, it is of particular curiosity that the academic pursuits of math and science were first founded under the predication of searching for an understand of the aesthetic purpose. The ancestors of our times would not ask, “What of nature’s beauty fits into our mathematical or scientific forms?” but rather, “In what ways is it even conceivably possible to understand the beauty that surrounds us, and are we even worthy of such understanding?” All abstract thought must originate with a concrete reality. Thus, all theorems stem from an original sensory observation: the acoustic principles of sound as it refers to length of a vibrating medium, the visual properties of a shell as its segments relate to the proportional increase in radii from it’s center, the Fibonacci sequence, or Pascal’s Triangle.

    What of all this banter and rhetoric? Who should care in the present day that the ancients developed the mathematical and scientific pursuits to explain nature’s beauty and are thus subservient to the Arts? If nothing else, they should pay homage to their lineage as we do our bloodlines. Perhaps there is more. Perhaps the enduring lesson is this: the pursuit of the arts stirs the curiosity and cultivates the necessary skills to progress such a curiosity beyond a childish whim and give it the chance to take hold and develop into a new branch of academia. Should we openly stifle this potential for the growth of new ideas and advancement of forward thinking because we’re locked into an archaic mindset of the three “R’s”?

    As we close this arduous journey through an un-tame mind, let us reexamine the point in contest: the extradition of musical study in the public curriculum. To expel the critical study of music from the development of young minds, do we, in the same act, undermine the very philosophical ideals we preach: equity, tolerance, acceptance, individuality, cultural identity, self concept, creative expression, freedom? There is no known human culture that existed with an absence of musical form. It would not be a stretch to consider musical ability an identifying trait of what it is to be human. In the melting pot, each contributing component loses its uniqueness. Shall we also lose a piece of our humanity to the same end? It is saddening to see an ill-fated trend reach global status.

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