Today's article came from A.C.M., and I have to blog about it because one of my "mantras" in recent years has been "own the culture" and its institutions. The article is clear enough; with the rise of the digital "culture" more and more young people are turning away from the arts and music:
It begins with an interesting observation:
For most people of a certain age, their brains tend to see the “big picture” before settling in to focus on the details. Those growing up in the digital age however, are being rewired to see the world a whole lot differently. Researchers in Hungary say children who start using digital devices at a young age pay more attention to tiny details and less to the whole picture.
A team from Eötvös Loránd University finds growing up with a mobile device or tablet in your hand alters how the brain works. The phenomenon will likely lead to more scientists in the coming decades, but fewer artists and musicians. They add that teaching methods may even have to change.
“Use of mobile touch screen devices (MTSDs) in toddlers and preschoolers is markedly increasing and the age at which youth begin to use these devices is becoming lower. Compared to earlier eras, young children are exposed to different kinds of stimuli during a developmental phase characterized by exceptional neural and cognitive plasticity. The short and long-term consequences of such exposure are largely unknown.” (Boldface emphasis added)
What I find disturbing here is the loss of the ability to synthesize information, and to create from that synthesis. Not for nothing did the trivium and quadrivium not only include geometry and rhetoric, but also music. And I'm a firm believer in the value of music in education for a very simple reason: music teaches one to focus not only on details - the right notes, the right fingering or bowing or breath control, the pleasing phrasing, and so on - but also simultaneously on "the big picture", on synthesizing all of those things to create a harmonious and artistic whole. One question I get on a fairly regular basis from my readers is how am I able to synthesize so many details? Howsoever one may evaluate that - poor, indifferent, good or whatever - my answer has always been the same: I grew up playing and studying a musical instrument (in my case, the organ). Invariably I've found the same to be true, whether it's guitar, clarinet, viola, piano, Sousaphone, or whatever one plays: music hits that right balance of detail and synthesis orientation. Music is invariably contrapuntal; it requires one to think on more than one level at the same time. Some types of music do this better than others, but the principle is present throughout.
There's something else the arts do, and particularly music, and that's the "human focus": it is an art and a craft best learned from a teacher, or explored, with other humans in physical proximity, so that those details and creative syntheses can be discussed, pondering, weighed, and explored. The ad hoc teenage rock group getting together in a garage to play music or create their own songs are involved in something uniquely creative, and uniquely human: try this harmonic progression not that one; try this rhythm, not that one, and so on.
This interaction cannot be accomplished to the same degree on a smartphone. Music requires that all-too-missing component of our increasingly inhuman digital age; it requires "being there" through the long slogs of practice sessions until one reaches that magic moment when one is no longer "playing the notes" (the details) but "performing the music" (the synthesis). Bringing beauty into the world is not easy; it's a discipline, and a craft, and a tradition, whether one is talking about the tradition from Buxtehude and Bach to Mendelssohn, or the Beatles to David Bowie.
Or to put it country simple: don't give them a (useless) mask and an iphone, give them a guitar, or a sax, or a violin....
See you on the flip side...