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How music can connect us all

During my 36-year career teaching public school vocal and choral music, I sometimes felt that I had to defend the value of the very subject I was hired to teach. Time and again, when schools are cutting budgets, the arts are downsized or eliminated. This seems ironic because music is a subject that connects and reinforces many of the other academic areas.

I often designed concerts that would help students and audiences understand the concept of interconnectedness. The focal point of one spring concert was a section titled "A Celebration of Creativity," which illustrated how from one creative idea many others can be born.

The president of a local printing company wanted the firm's holiday greeting card to depict a scene from our central Minnesota area and to highlight the fine quality of work done by its employees. He hired an artist from Nisswa to do a painting of a Japanese garden created by a man who lives near Long Prairie. The painting was to be used as the cover of the holiday card. A local writer was hired to write a poem, "Japanese Garden," in response to the painting, as text for the card.

A few years later, my colleague Matthew Culloton composed a song, "Japanese Garden," for women's choir, using the poem as the text. We asked a photographer to take photos of various sections of the painting.

All of the people who contributed to this project were invited to our spring concert, which included the premiere of the song. As "A Celebration of Creativity" began, the participants assembled on the stage, where they were introduced to the audience and the role of each was explained.

The poet read the poem as the photographer's slides were displayed on a large screen. The 100-voice high school women's choir sang "Japanese Garden," with piano accompaniment; the composer played the clarinet. In those few moments, a gardener and his garden; a printing company, a painter, a photographer, a poet; a composer; a large group of musicians, and an audience were all connected.

Creating beautiful music is not only about the intellect mastering musical skills. Music must also evoke a singer's emotional response so the performance becomes a combination of head and heart. Music has the power to energize, inspire, heal and unite people. I believe that music is a necessity in the academic curriculum in every school. It could be, in fact, the center of the entire curriculum.

Marilyn Bengtson lives in Long Prairie, Minn.

Editor's Note: A recording of "Japanese Garden" can be heard at: www.tinyurl.com/cegqr8x

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