“A community united by the ideals of compassion and creativity has incredible power. Arts of all kinds—music, literature, traditional arts, visual arts—can lift a community” ~ Martin O’Malley
The connection between Music and the Performing Arts and teaching compassion is intrinsic. During the most strenuous and challenging of times, the arts are what keep us grounded and connected. They are a powerful means of helping us feel, relate, and understand more deeply. Compassion is about empathizing and thoughtfully considering the experiences, struggles, and challenges those around us face. Music facilitates our personal growth in compassion in several ways. First, Music is a shared language and means of expression; it erases barriers and divisions, bringing unity and inspiring love. Second, music teaches collaboration and generosity; it challenges students to be compassionate by helping their peers achieve their fullest potential. Third, music teaches patience and compassion in the act of learning itself—students are encouraged to take every new exercise and project with grace and courtesy.
Music allows students to learn, understand, and appreciate the beauty of diversity and the many lessons that other cultures can teach us. Comprehending the messages behind a popular song, a folk dance, or an African drumming ensemble teaches empathy. Through the music program we work on decoding the inner meaning of musical works, rhythm patterns, or melodic sequences, and learning what music and theater tell us about the history, beliefs, passions, struggles, and dreams of other countries, cultures, and races. Students learn empathy for what others experience by listening through their ears and experiencing their music.
Music also teaches us how to be generous and to give back to our neighbors and community. Through acting and musical exercises students learn to become a cast and an ensemble. This teaches them to be cohesive and collegial with one another. Working as a class unit, and in smaller partnership groups, facilitates patience, cooperation, and the ability to learn with and from one another. Our musical theater classes, specifically, provide yet another opportunity for growth. When we work on acting or preparing for a play, we always start with discussing the importance of empathizing with the characters in the story. Students are challenged to embody their characters—to become them. “Wearing the character’s shoes”—an old theater expression—represents the broad idea of relating to the character’s thoughts and emotions. At its core, this is an exercise in empathy. To truly absorb the acting experience students cannot just impersonate the characters, they must identify with their story and understand their plights. This teaches students to be kind, understanding, and compassionate in their everyday life as well.
Students also learned compassion through their educational journey this year. COVID-19 affected many aspects of classes. Teachers and students alike had to learn new ways of engaging in schoolwork, be patient and understanding with one another, and exercise a great deal of kindness and grace.
Together we worked to adapt to a different music model fully embracing a music program divided between the online platform and the outdoor classroom as a new opportunity for learning. The students readily adjusted to exploring novel ways of making music with plastic buckets and wood sticks, singing notwithstanding face masks, and dancing while social distancing. The online learners happily welcomed all the innovative tasks they were offered: from coding to using interactive music applications and manipulatives, to playing with new virtual instruments. The students did not dwell on the challenge in transitioning to new formats and exercises, instead, they focused on the positives. They did not mourn the projects and opportunities COVID-19 took away, instead, they rejoiced in the chance to explore new pathways. They beautifully exemplified maturity, courage, and resiliency! These arduous times have not affected the bond that learning music and the performing arts creates in our classroom, rather it has only made it stronger.
My students and I are looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year. We are excited to be back to working in the music room! I am sure that every day will be filled with new and added excitement, hope, gratitude, and joy.
~ Cinzia Maddalena-Mattiace, Music and Performing Arts Director