Opinion: Music’s power in your brain

Watching the Southern Adventist University Symphony orchestra assemble in the Jewish Federation's auditorium, I didn't realize that I was standing next to a music prodigy. I asked the young man wearing a suit and fancy tie his name. "Matthew." I asked him about his role in this event. "I'm conducting the first piece we're playing today." When asked what music he was conducting, he responded, "Atlantic Overture. It's something I composed myself." That's when the faculty conductor, Laurie Cadwallader, introduced Matthew Kimbley. I grinned as he calmly walked into the room, stepped up on the podium and proceeded to conduct the orchestra with the professional confidence of a young Leonard Bernstein.

That's when I picked up the program and read about Matthew and the piece he'd composed. One thing to know is that he's only 20 years old and still a junior at Southern, majoring in music theory and piano performance. A fan of the beaches along the Atlantic coastline, he composed "Atlantic Overture" to capture the myriad sounds and sights along the coast, hoping the listener "will gain a greater sense of the majesty of God, who created the oceans and inspired this piece." No wonder that in addition to his studies, Matthew is the principal violinist of the SAU Symphony Orchestra, percussionist with SAU Wind Symphony, and president of the Prayer Club at Southern.

How does this happen? To begin with, Matthew began studying piano at age 5, composing at age 6, and became the youngest ever winner of the Summer Singers Young Composers International Competition in 2019. The only person I know who started piano lessons younger than that is my cousin, Michael Levine. He is now a Hollywood composer.

Teaching music at a young age isn't just about creating an amazing artist. It's about creating an amazing human being. A study by the University of Vermont College of Medicine provides evidence that providing children with high-quality music education may be one of the most effective ways to ensure their success in life. If your parents forced you to practice your scales by saying it would "build character," they were onto something.

The Washington Post reports, "Musical training doesn't just affect your musical ability — it provides tremendous benefits to children's emotional and behavioral maturation," and shared the report's finding that "the more training on an instrument a child received, ...it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control." Cousin Michael likes to joke, "Think what I'd be like without that early music training."

Since music training increases the thickness in the brain elements responsible for working memory, attentional control and organizational skills, why isn't music part of every curriculum for early childhood?

The number of students involved in music courses is reported to have declined recently by 46.5%. Yet, research shows that learning music can boost the ability to solve complex math problems and improve reading comprehension. Unfortunately, millions of children, many from impoverished communities, have no access at all to music education. Think what exposure to music education could do for children learning English as a second language or have ADHD issues.

Yes, advocate for music in schools, but don't wait. Raise your child on music. I put a radio playing classical music on my tummy when I was pregnant. Now my daughter is a pediatrician. It's time to press the "Play" button!

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@ diversityreport.com.