Grace Boyum: Choosing game over recital doesn't score points with teachers

It's happened to almost every music teacher. You're planning a recital for your students. It's one of the highlights of the year.

And then the teacher gets a call from a parent saying they can't attend the recital because they just found out that their kid's soccer game is scheduled on the same day.

While it is true that everyone has to make their own decisions and set their own priorities, I find it interesting that whenever a kid is in both sports and music, the event that requires a ball and a uniform almost always comes first. Anyone who puts music first often gives up on sports or just plays an occasional pickup game.

And yet, if you look at it objectively, music has just as much and perhaps more value than sports. True, playing an instrument doesn't usually develop your physique as much. But on the flip side, playing an instrument also doesn't usually endanger life and limb and is far better for developing your brain.

The act of playing an instrument has the unique property of engaging almost every part of your brain. Music involves the physical side by requiring coordination as you press the keys of a piano or draw a bow across the strings of a violin. It requires the mathematical side — Mozart Effect anyone? — to count beats and feel a rhythm.


There's the creative side of playing expressively and with emotion. And, of course, it has the potential to build character as it requires perseverance, patience and discipline — qualities that correlate with success.

I say potential because it's just that: unfulfilled possibility. Too often, it seems that people think that if they just show up at lessons once a week and play a few songs in between, they will somehow become a musician and earn all the benefits thereof: the higher academic scores associated with music performance, the development of their creative side, higher spatial-temporal IQs, a better chance of not getting Alzheimer's. Everyone understands that to get better at a sport, you have to spend hours practicing, but it doesn't seem that the same understanding exists for music.

One of the difficulties in making time for music is that many kids are involved in far more activities than they have time to do. When one activity has to be short-changed, music is a common candidate. Why this is, I'm not sure. Maybe music teachers aren't as demanding as coaches. In the years I played basketball and the season I ran cross-country, I always had reasonable coaches, but you often hear stories of how much pressure there is on players to make every practice and game. Or perhaps it isn't as obvious to people that music takes just as much work as any other skill.

But whatever the reason and regardless of perceptions, music does require just as much time and practice as sports. I can say this with authority, having played basketball for almost 10 years and piano for 13 years. Now perhaps you're still not persuaded to rearrange your priorities and give music a higher ranking, but at least realize that your music teacher deserves consideration, too.

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