Music edu. and Creativity ☆

| January 24, 2011

For the year and  a half that I’ve been in graduate school, the question “Why is Music education important” is one that I feel like we’ve tackled in a variety of ways. When Dr. Pogonowski first posited the question to me in her Creative Arts Laboratory class, I recoiled.  Why, I reasoned, do WE have to defend the validity of of our subject when the utility of something like calculus or english literature is rarely questioned.  But in light of the many cuts to music departments as schools systems try to cut back their systems lead me to believe that the question is indeed relevant, perhaps now more than ever.

One of the most enduring arguments I’ve heard in favor of music education is the idea that it spurs creativity.  Even if students do not become professional musicians (which most will not), the skills that they learn will allow them to “think out of the box.”   Music, it is said, helps create the next innovators, helping people become better problem solvers.  I’m wondering, if our notion of creativity is branded. I get the sense that “creativity” in the way it is talked about here is very American. It fits in line with the American dream of following one’s whims, believing and pursuing them in interesting and dynamic ways, and in the end contributing something incredible to society. I am particularly struck by the “Americaness” of the way in which we understand and talk about “creativity” when I read an article that has gained notable attention in the press that discussed the way in which a Chinese American Mother raised her children.  In the article, titled “Why Chinese Mothers are superior,” Amy Chua asserts that she imposes very strict rules about how her daughters grow up, down to the musical instruments they can play, the violin and piano. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html )

One episode in the article involves the Chua forcing one of her daughters to repeatedly practice the piano  for several hours while screaming at her in order to get a part right. Many readers of the article indicated that the daughters will not be “creative” as a result of their upbringing. Too much has been forced upon them, they reason.   The fact that the daughters have  won piano and violin competitions has not swayed a large volume of commentators of the article indicating that “passion” for music, and true innovative “creativity” are not happening with these girls.

I am not sure I agree with these criticism.  I, of course, have never heard the girls play their respective instruments, but I’m very wary of saying that the strictures imposed upon them wipe out “creativity.”  To me, saying these girls are “un-Creative” is more commentary of their “un-American” approach to excellence in music than it is about achieving true “creativity.”  It seems to me an ironic twist to say that “creativity” can be measured such that one person can be considered more or less creative and than another. How does that work?  Creativity is extremely abstract! I think its also cultural/national.  Can there ever be a universal way of understanding “creativity?”