Music Links to Career Success

October 17th, 2013
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While I was prepping for my weekend shoots at the Hawaii Youth Symphony fundraiser and Hawaii Pops concert on Sun., Oct. 20, I came across a New York Times article with the headline, "Is Music the Key to Success?" The Facebook page of the Hawaii Youth Symphony posted their own answer: "Absolutely! No matter how you decide to pursue or include music in your lives beyond HYS, you can always be sure that you'll have your musical background as a firm foundation for where life takes you next!"

They may be a tad biased, but you won't get any argument from me. I've seen many examples, ranging from my nieces whose mom plays classical music in the Boulder Symphony, to documentaries about children from low income areas, who made significant improvement in all aspects of their lives after being exposed to music programs. Yet thanks to austerity measures and budget cuts, along with more emphasis on testing instead of actual learning, music is getting the axe in many public schools. If you cannot see the connection between the arts, fostering creativity, and achieving success in later life, I guess stuff like offering music programs in schools seems like a waste of money.

However, as the NYT article notes, there's ample evidence that getting children involved in music is worth the investment. Since you might not be able to view the link because of their paywall, I'm going to copy excerpts at the end of this post.

You can find out more about the Hawaii Youth Symphony benefit concert at the Hilton Hawaiian Village by clicking here. Among the guest performers will be Jimmy Borges and the Waitiki 7, which performs jazzy exotica in the vein of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Randy Wong, the director of the HYS will be playing some of his own compositions as part of the Waitiki 7 group. He's also the son of Terrina Wong, who I know through the great work she does at Pacific Gateway Center. Here's a piece we did about her ESL classes for the families of farm trafficking victims.

As for the Hawaii Pops concert at the Convention Center, we'll be doing a feature on Matt Catingub in our November episode. Tickets have been going fast, so click here for details. Sheena Easton will be making a special appearance on Sunday as they perform "The Songs of Bond... James Bond." Should be a lot of fun.

Getting back to the NYT article, here's some excerpts if the link to their site doesn't work:

Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously...

Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall...

Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder) offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra. “I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.

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If you haven't seen the Halloween episode of this month's Career Changers TV, click here for daily viewing times. BTW, there still seems to be some confusion. Yes, it's on OC16. No, it's not channel 16 anymore, which is now reserved for local sports. OC16 is actually channel 12 or 1012 for high definition. People have told me they tuned to OC16, but all they saw were sports. The programming people at OC16 say they think everyone knows by now that OC16 is actually OC12. I dunno about that.

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