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New score for young city musicians

Several music colleges are stepping up their involvement to educate K-12 students in American urban areas where arts classes are minimal at best.

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To ring in the new year, some prominent music institutions are reaching out to offer free education to young people. Berklee College of Music in Boston will tap into its alumni network to create a national version of its City Music Program for disadvantaged students. In New York, Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School are teaming up to bring classical music fellows into classrooms. Both programs plan to expand to serve at least 50 sites within three to five years.

"Music is part of our culture, and part of the responsibility of any musician is to pass that culture along, both by performing and also by teaching others what they've learned," says Michael Blakeslee, deputy executive director of MENC: The National Association for Music Education.

Such partnerships are just a start in meeting the needs of the approximately 50 percent of students in the United States who don't have sufficient music education in their schools, Mr. Blakeslee says. The federal No Child Left Behind law identifies the arts as a core subject, but so far it's only holding schools accountable for reading, math, and science. School leaders are shortsighted if they cut the arts to focus solely on those subjects, he suggests.

"A music program sometimes can engage the kids ... in their entire school day in a way that helps them achieve better in science, math, everything," Blakeslee says. A number of studies in recent decades have shown correlations between music education and better academic performance. And a recent survey, sponsored in part by MENC, found that nearly 90 percent of school principals believed music education helped reduce dropout rates.

Music enhances ... math skills?

"I remember struggling with fractions.... I didn't get it till I started playing music and learning that there were four quarter notes in a measure," says Curtis Warner, executive director of Berklee City Music. He says some students who were in danger of failing out of school joined the Berklee program and made a quick turnaround through the motivation and discipline of music. Alumni include music teachers in public schools, a law school graduate, and performers touring with well-known artists such as Keyshia Cole.


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