November Numerology: JFK and the meaning of 11/22

Think piece I wrote for WCRB Classical New England for this rather remarkable day on the calendar…\

November Numerology: JFK and the Musical Meaning of 11/22

The Third Winner in Iowa?

Can’t help but notice which candidate bought the valuable sidebar ad-space in the online edition of today’s the Christian Science Monitor, opposite the news about the impressive wins by Mike Huckabee and Barak Obama:…only adding more fuel to the speculation that Hizzoner is gonna run; a rumour I’ve been hearing for the past year….

The Huckabee Band-wagon?

Huh. Little did I realize that when I posted about Ark. gov Mike Huckabee actually putting music and arts education on his campaign agenda, that he was becoming the It Guy among Republican candidates. The Boston Globe editorialized enthusiastically the other day, saying “when the former Arkansas governor starts talking about the importance of the arts and education, he’s practically Maria von Trapp harmonizing about the power of music and metaphor.” And guess who gets the big Style section treatment in the Washpost today?
Sample grab:
Huckabee has been seen as the cuddly antidote to what has been an awfully tough-talking Republican field. He’s the affable, compassionate, good guy and rock-and-roll evangelical who plays guitar and wants to hang with the Rolling Stones.

‘Course, it just might be that music is a far more interesting subject for reporters to cover than, say, Middle East geopolitics or subprime mortgage lending rates.

Or maybe this is a rare case of a political candidate with authentic knowledge and passion for a subject, and not the usual focus-group posturing. I’d like to believe that voters can tell the difference. Regardless, it’s fascinating to watch Huckabee ride this horse on the Iowa campaign trail as reported by the Daily Iowan:

“You’ve probably never heard a presidential candidate talk about music and art and the importance of it,” Huckabee said. “But if I don’t get to do anything else running for president, I want to make sure that this country hears that this is a vital part of future and a critical part of our education system.”

Also worth noting: the Post story was one of the paper’s most e-mailed articles today. I’ll be curious (and amazed, frankly) to see if any other candidates pick up this thread….

They’re not Dumb, just Bored: Music & Art on the Campaign Trail?

Imagine my surprise to discover in Wednesday’s Washpost an article devoted to a speech by bottom-rung presidential candidate Mike Huckabee…talking, of all things, about arts and music education. Presidential candidates rarely, if ever, talk about the arts — and when they do it’s some “position paper” dutifully spun out by a low-level campaign operative. Rarer still for a Republican candidate to talk this kinda talk:

“If you don’t stimulate both sides of a human’s brain, you’re simply generating half the capacity. This whole idea that music and art are great programs if you can afford them and have room for them — that’s utter nonsense. It’s the stupidest thing we’ve done to education in the last two generations.”

Huckabee’s essential argument is that the “economy of the future will place a premium on creativity,” something missed by the hyper-focus on science and math instruction:

“A lot of education today has become left-brain only. All we’re doing is . . . nothing more than data download: taking data from the teacher and downloading it to kids. And we wonder why 6,000 kids drop out of school every day and why so many millions more kids sleep through the day with their heads down on the desk, taking the most expensive nap in America. The reason they’re doing it is not that they’re dumb but that they’re bored.” Whew. Strong stuff. Turns out that like another Arkansas governor-turned-presidential aspirant Huckabee comes by his passions honestly, according to Washpost reporter Alec MacGillis:

His parents bought him a $99 guitar when he was 11 years old, and he’s played ever since,
eventually becoming the bassist for a Little Rock band, Capitol Offense, that has played
with Grand Funk Railroad, Willie Nelson and REO Speedwagon, among others. As
governor, he pushed through a 2005 law requiring elementary schools to offer 40 minutes
per week of music and art and requiring high school students to take at least a half-year of
art, music or dance to graduate.

Huh. Must be something in the Arkansas water. Huckabee even has a blog devoted his stances on arts education. Bravo to Huckabee for having the courage to point out the obvious: At the K-12 level, music instruction of any kind continues to be under great duress in America. And there are those that argue that the focus on literacy and numerosity triggered by the No Child Left Behind Act has had a boomerang effect on artistic literacy: Last March Minnesota Public Radio did a terrific report on what’s happened in the Gopher Sate: In order to comply with the Federal statutes, the Minnesota Music Educators Association reported a 6.5 percent decrease in the number of public school music teachers in the state since 2000. Many elementary schools now offer arts programs for just nine weeks out of the year. And nationally, arts education time in the classroom has dropped 22 percent since NCLB was enacted in 2002 .

The end result is that a fundamental component of the education of our nation’s youth continues to be overlooked, abandoned, and/or betrayed, with consequences that go far beyond the inability to read musical notation or know when Mozart was born. I’ll be curious to see if any other candidates pick up this thread…but I’m not holding my breath.