Music in an Age of Dumb Noise
by Nelson Barrette on Friday, October 5th, 2012
Beatnik, which began last Friday under the very capable stewardship of Adam Rochelle (I) , Caleb Warren (I), and the rest of the new Magus Mabus editorial staff, is undoubtedly one of Milton’s great traditions. By making it easy for students of all different skill levels and musical proclivities to participate in a night of artistic revelry, Beatnik is probably the purest expression of Milton’s commitment to the arts. That commitment is particularly crucial now, in a climate in which the release provided by art, and the creativity it breeds, is often undervalued.
Mike Huckabee — a political figure with whom I rarely agree — once commented in his book “From Hope to Higher Ground” that Americans needed to “listen to more music and less talk radio” (amazon.com). The extent to which Mr. Huckabee, now a talk radio host himself, has contributed to the realization of his recommendation is debatable. Nonetheless, I believe that it is a good thought to keep in mind during a politically-charged time. At convocation, Mr. Bland urged the student body to maintain cordial discourse, even as national political rhetoric becomes more vitriolic. One of the worst consequences of the 24-hour news cycle is the gradual crowding out of the creative arts from the national spotlight, so that large segments of the population are exposed to far too much sensationalist and misleading “journalism,” and too little evidence of creative energy at work.
This lack of artistic appreciation takes many forms. Though we at Milton are fortunate to go to a school that encourages the arts, any student who has had the opportunity to volunteer at the Taylor School knows that the state of the arts in inner-city public schools is dire. In an era of budget cuts falling disproportionately on education, state and local governments are eliminating funds for performing and visual arts classes at an alarming rate. The simultaneous rise of the standardized test as the all-powerful arbiter of the fate of children, teachers, and schools has further sped the decline of arts in American public education.
At the federal level, we see many staunchly small-government members of Congress advocate the cutting of the pittances reserved for the encouragement of the arts. While the United States government should work to get its fiscal house in order, it should try to minimize the effects of such cuts on programs already being slashed at the state and local level.
As we noted above, Milton students are fairly insulated from our wider society’s lack of artistic appreciation. We are required to take a full year of art, we have many extracurricular opportunities to pursue creative endeavors, and many would complain that we are too focused on pop music and not enough on the national political scene. Still, though last Friday’s Beatnik was a success, the event used to be more heavily attended and run longer. Because we attend a school with so many opportunities to support the arts, we should make sure that we do not underuse that privilege while it is available to us.
Milton will continue to be an artistic place, and Milton students will continue to reap the benefits. Small improvements could be made to Milton’s arts program, such as making it easier to complete the arts requirement without sacrificing subjects like history and science, but I don’t want to rehash the perennial course-load debate here. I simply wish to note that Milton students should take their school’s commitment to the arts seriously, and that policy makers at all levels of government should not be so quick to dismiss the social and educational benefits of art.
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