I was at our little post office one Saturday during the holidays mailing something or other and the woman behind the counter and I started the normal small talk about the weather, which wasn’t particularly good that day, wind and snow, typical winter in Michigan. She said she was worried because she had just put her son on a bus headed to the Sugar Bowl. He’s in the local marching band and they had been invited to perform at halftime along with several other high school bands. She was apprehensive about the trip but so very proud of him.
And there we were, suddenly talking about the benefits of growing up in a high school band. The camaraderie, the discipline, the skills learned, the making of lifelong friends. Sure music has value all of its own. But the real value for kids growing up in a small rural town is that music, any kind of music, gives kids a chance to see something larger, to make something bigger than themselves. To be involved in something beautiful.
I was thinking about that post office clerk last night as I sat high in the balcony of Hill Auditorium on the campus of the University of Michigan enjoying the university’s Collage concert. It’s put on by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and is filled with snippets of everything from full band and orchestra pieces, to soloists, to dancers, to Shakespeare. It’s filled with choirs and ensembles, duets and quartets, unusual music and the classics.
One after another, without pause in between, the spotlight shifts from stage left to stage right, stopping in the center, bouncing off to the left again. Each new act spotlighted a new glowing talent and though the audience was supposed to refrain from applause until the end of each half often it erupted spontaneously.
We just couldn’t help it.
In particular I enjoyed the Men’s Glee Club. As they filed onto the risers behind the band I noted how sharp they looked in their black tuxes, crisp white shirts, grins on their faces. There were almost a hundred of them and they sounded wonderful. I thought about what kind of impression this experience was having on them. How being able to dress up in a tux with tails and have people applaud you wasn’t something most little boys ever imagine doing. And now here they were experiencing this concert and many others in their school musical careers. I wondered how many of them would keep singing into adulthood. I bet most do.
In fact all evening as I watched and listened I couldn’t help marveling at the abundance of talent filling that stage. And realizing that across this country and the world there’s an abundance of talent filling stages everywhere. And that made me feel better about the state of the world. Sure these past few weeks have been filled with bad news, scary news, often unimaginable news. But things can’t be all bad when several hundred kids spend their Saturday night making us (and themselves) feel wonderful. In fact the world is a pretty special place when artists share their talent, when they make such beautiful memories for themselves and their families and complete strangers.
And that, in a nutshell, is the value of music. It makes us feel good. Those of us sitting in the audience love it. But those sitting on the stage producing it reap the most valuable benefits of all. It’s the underpinning of their lives, it’s what makes them who they are and it’s what they will build the rest of their lives on. Music. In the end you can’t measure the value in dollars, can never know it’s exact worth.
But last night, for those kids and their families, I’d have to say it was priceless.