Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Why Music

The following occurred a few years ago. I was giving a high school sophomore a double bass lesson at his home. The boy's father came into the room and said to me: "My son John will most likely be going to law school or medical school. Since he will not be a professional musician do you think these bass lessons are really necessary? If he does not plan to ever play 'Carnegie Hall' why should he take lessons?"

I proceeded to tell my student's father the following true story: I have a good friend, Harry, who with me, graduated from Yale with a Masters of Music degree some years ago. Soon after graduating Harry decided that he wanted to be an attorney instead of a professional musician. Months later he applied to various law schools. Over lunch Harry described an incredible occurrence: he was interviewed by the dean of a major university law school. The dean looked down at Harry's resume and said "I see you graduated from Yale with a Masters of Music". Harry, a little concerned, said "Yes, but I now would like to become an attorney". "Well", the dean continued, "based on your Music Masters degree you are accepted to attend our law school". Harry was surprised and with a confused look asked "I don't understand. Based on a music degree you are accepting me into your law school? I don't understand". The dean smiled "Let me explain. What do you need to do to become a successful musician? First you need to spend much time alone in a practice room, solving problems. Then you need to go out on stage to rehearse with other musicians (as a team) to solve problems. Finally, you need to perform your music in front of an audience. Let me tell you what a successful attorney needs to do: first he spends much time alone in a library, researching and solving problems for his client. Then he often works with other attorneys (as a team) to help his client and to solve additional problems. Finally, he usually has to "perform" his case in front of a jury and a judge. Harry, as a successful musician you have developed all the skills needed to become a successful attorney -- we will need to re-tune those skills to law, that's all."

The father of my student stared at me with a surprised look on his face. "I never realized that by learning a musical instrument, my son could develop skills that could be applied to other careers." He turned to his son and said "Listen carefully to your bass teacher....do whatever he says.....” The father then left the room.

And here is one of the best moments in my teaching career: as his father left the room, my student turned to me and said "But, Mr. Russo isn't the privilege and ability to play Bach, Beethoven and Brahms enough of a reason to study music?" I smiled and nodded, thankful for the wisdom and enthusiasm of children.

Joseph Russo