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The Musical Arts Youth Orchestra And The Art of Practice

Generations Learn From One Another

It's early evening. Members of the Musical Arts Youth Orchestra trickle into the high school band room and begin to put together their instruments.

Musical director Jose Valencia is in a practice room, talking amid bellows from a nearby tuba. After two years with MAYO, as the orchestra members prefer to be called,  one of the things that strikes Valencia most about working with young musicians is their enthusiasm. "It makes me feel proud and honored to be able to work with people like them. It's challenging, because they're on this upward quest and I'm running along to keep ahead of them, if I can."

Young musicians exhibit a stylistic flexibility that's refreshing to Valencia after his experience with adult orchestras. Watching them play with new musical ideas and develop as musicians is rewarding. "It's definitely good because you can see people of varying social development all coming together and producing the same type of a product, an event, an emotional event," Valencia says. "A performance is a culminating activity for all the hard work they put in."

Music And Academic Achievement

Brent Talbot is a visiting instructor in music education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research and experience teaching music in marginalized demographic areas has given him insight into how kids learn music. It has a strong effect on their social and mental development, Talbot says.

"Music is positively associated with academic achievement, and especially that happens, or is found during the high school years." He points to studies showing a strong correlation between high test scores in reading and math and a child's study of music. (Read the Science Daily articles from 2010, 2009, and 2006, here.)

Statistics can be tricky, though. Talbot says that music participation and good grades are also associated with income. Parents who can afford music lessons are more likely to shell out for math tutors, too.

Social Development

The benefits of playing music go beyond academics. Simply belonging to a group can be beneficial. "I think there are a lot of social advantages in music. Being a member of a group, you know, develops these inter-personal skills." Talbot says the habit of listening to the many parts of an orchestral piece and responding appropriately is a defining talent that is crucial in any profession, musical or not.

MAYO flute player Josh Clampitt explains, "When you play in an ensemble you learn to communicate with others nonverbally. You don't have to talk with someone to know when to be together at the same time. You build teamwork just like you do in a sports team."

And like a sports team, an orchestra cultivates a sense of camaraderie and communal achievement. Viola player Sam Pilgrim, a first year MAYO member, describes one reason why he carves time out of his busy schedule for orchestra practice: "I think some of it is that just sort of a sense, when you play in an orchestra, of being a part of something,  something that people really like, and seeing a very obvious sense of progression."

The Art of Practice

There are a lot of kids who become frustrated with music and stop playing altogether. Violinist Daisy Day talks about what goes through her head during those frustrating moments: "There's definitely a lot of times when you improve, improve and then there's a certain point where you just stop. But I always think that after I just go past this point, then I'll be able to improve even more."

While some young musicians have difficulty working with their instruments, Talbot points out that for still others a lack of perseverance can come from peer pressure or arguments in the home.

"Those who can really move through those types of pressures and those tensions and generally enjoy the experience of sitting down and practicing and focusing in many ways can achieve greater success in a number of areas solely because of the art of practice."

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