Center for
Lifelong Music Making
Lifelong Music Making: A Healthy Habit



Good morning! I invite you to close your eyes and allow me to suggest a visualization. Please take a deep, cleansing breath. Now take one more and exhale out all of the tension of getting to this conference. 

I’d like you to imagine a nation where:

  • all people enjoy making music every day.
  • all people are musically competent.

What does it look like, sound like, feel like? In homes? In schools? In communities? 

Where and how do you fit into these scenes? Thank you. You may open your eyes.


Zoltán Kodály used the motto, Music for Everyone, to articulate his vision of a musically competent population. Americans need a more specific “sound bite” to capture our attention and imagination. I propose the phrase, Lifelong Music Making, because it implies that music can enhance the quality of daily existence.  So, how do we accomplish this vision? What separates a successful vision from one that fails? I think it’s a matter of three basic elements: 

·        A committed group of citizens

·        An understanding of systems and the dynamics of change

·        A focused plan



In the aftermath of a horrible tragedy of terrorism just over two weeks ago, we come together at this conference to celebrate the light we bring into the world as musicians and teachers. What an honorable calling it is to see, hear, create and share beauty through music! We may not be able to give care or medical attention to people in New York City, but we do have our jobs. Artists “are the rescue workers of the architecture of the human spirit," said Ben Cameron last week, a man involved with NY theater.

We know that music can aid healing and well-being. The simple act of singing creates a powerful connection between body, mind and spirit. “Singing is a form of political resistance,” exerts Gábor Csepregi, a Hungarian Canadian philosophy professor. Making music can provide strength and courage to resist a mechanistic society, forces of external control, and fear brought on by terrorist acts. We who know music deeply are among those involved in efforts to heal, energize and deepen lives. So, take heart! Let us dream together and create plans of action.  Anthropologist Margaret Mead stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Systems and the Dynamics of Change

American citizens hold many limiting beliefs about music and music making. We certainly know them well! Limiting beliefs are like weeds in a garden, choking off a vision as it strives to grow. Here are just a few:

·        Music is a talent; you either have it or you don’t.

·        Music is entertainment.

·        Music making is something you do in your spare time.

·        Music making is for the rich.

·        Complex music is boring.


Let’s rewrite these limiting beliefs into ones that embody possibilities:

·        Music is a natural intelligence developed through practice.

·        Music is a human need that encompasses many aspects, one of them entertainment.

·        Music making is a life-enhancing activity and as such should be a part of every day.

·        Music making is available to everyone regardless of economics.

·        Understanding complex music is achievable by those who play and listen to it.  


Now that we have cultivated the soil by re-working these beliefs, we can plant our vision, Lifelong Music Making. Next, let’s water it with some essential nutrients:  


Daily Music Making:  Creating the Habit

This one’s simple:  if we want to be competent at something, we’ve got to practice it. The shocking realization is that since music teachers were added to the elementary schools, students are probably making less music during their day than students did 50 years ago! Classroom teachers relieved of the responsibility for teaching music often stop making music at all with their students.    


Alone, music teachers cannot create the habit of daily music making for all students. We must enlist our partners, the classroom teachers. Reach out to them! Tell them they are musicians and so are their students. Explain that music making is a learned behavior that is life-enhancing and should be part of every day. Provide them current research results about the effects of music making. Give them captivating and lively folksongs, games and dances they can weave into their days. Teach them the techniques of good song leading. Guide them in how to sing within their students’ natural ranges.  Plan regular all-school singalongs.  Inspire teachers and students to have fun making music!


I envision the day when music making is a natural, communal, daily activity that everyone (including classroom teachers and principals) likes to do together.


Joyful, Rigorous Music Instruction

Developing competent musicians who love making music requires artistry-centered, skills-based, sequential instruction. Folksong is the basic food group of a curriculum that leads to complex music of many styles. Movement strengthens and deepens artistry. Students who receive feedback and coaching in a supportive environment will become competent. Competence leads to confidence. Engaged, happy, achieving students will be the best advocates for music.


I envision a revitalization of music learning in public and private schools across the nation culminating in a tremendous expansion of adult music making. 


Research:  Health and Brain Development

The American media has picked up the pace in communicating two most vital aspects of healthy living:  a nutritious diet and exercise. And now, new research indicates that making music may also enhance health. It’s amazing that scientists are actually trying to study music’s elusive quality to make people feel good (the mind-body connection). Two studies of note: 


·        A program of music classes for older adults using the Orff approach reports over a 90% boost in human growth hormone.  They tested vital signs and blood in an attempt to discover significant changes (The Oasis Center).


Makes one wonder:  Is it the music making?  The socializing?  The food served after the class?  What if we narrow down the variables to just singing?


·        A University of California - Irvine study showed that professional choral singers had a 240% boost in levels of immune system proteins after performing Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis."  These proteins are important for fighting off disease-causing agents (Robert Beck & Dr. Thomas Cesario, of the UCI College of Medicine; contact Lori Brandt 949-824-5484).

How did they find this out? Merely by taking samples of the singers’ saliva before and after singing!


I envision yearly physical exams where doctors ask their patients, “Are you eating well? Getting regular exercise? Making music?” 

And patients laughingly respond, “A song a day keeps the doctor away!” 


The act of making music appears to stimulate more areas of the brain simultaneously than any other singular activity. Music making may be helpful in organizing the conscious mind to enable it to perform in ways helpful to an individual in our society. We should be careful not to generalize from the early studies of the brain and student achievement. Saying, “music makes you smarter,” is just too simple to be helpful. Instead, funnel a steady supply of research studies to students, colleagues, administrators and parents. Merely focusing their attention on music making will help accomplish our vision! 


Isn’t it fascinating to imagine what might happen if people really come to believe that music making aids health and brain development? It would then become an equity issue: every student in our democratic society would be entitled by the Civil Rights Act, U.S. Code Section 1983, to receive a rigorous, competence-based music education.


I envision a time when music making is valued as an enhancer of neurological and cognitive processes that enable humans to live healthy, sensitive, creative and productive lives.


A Plan

Zoltán Kodály had a 100 Year Plan to realize his vision for Hungary. It’s time to develop our own plan. We can begin with the following objectives: 


·        Communicate the goal of Lifelong Music Making.

·        Advocate the habit of daily music making.

·        Partner with elementary classroom teachers and teachers of other disciplines in middle and secondary schools.

·        Implement music achievement standards in every school.

·        Re-educate practicing elementary music teachers in sequenced, skill-based music education instruction based on the Kodály, Orff, and Dalcroze approaches.   

·        Revitalize music curriculums using rigorous, skills-based, sequenced models such as: An American Methodology (Anne Eisen & Lamar Robertson), The Kodály Method (Lois Choksy), Discovering Orff (Jane Frazee), Exploring Orff (Arvida Steen) and Dalcroze Eurhythmics in Today’s Music Classroom (Virginia Meade).

·        Re-structure undergraduate teacher education programs, raising standards for licensure.

·        Encourage the finest student musicians to choose the teaching profession.

·        Initiate research studies to investigate the effects of music making on the brain, achievement, and health. Communicate the findings through the media. 

·        Evaluate progress toward standards of achievement with future National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. 

·        Establish higher achievement levels for the MENC National Standards. 

·        Evaluate progress toward the vision of Lifelong Music Making, and adjust the course of action.


To conclude, on the back of your handout* you will find three columns titled:  “Now, Next, and Not Yet.” At home, I hope you will write many responses on your 3 N’s list.  For now, in the “Now” column, please write one activity you are already doing that leads to the vision of Lifelong Music Making. In the “Next” column, write one action that you will take next week. Finally, write one action in the “Not Yet” column that you just aren’t ready to tackle right now, but you’ll do next school year. On the count of three, we will all speak each of our 3 N’s actions out loud.  Please stand up. Ready? One, two, three!  (Everyone speaks simultaneously.) 


Beautiful! As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world."


          *Now                       Next                      Not Yet               







Ann C. Kay
Keynote Speech
Midwest Kodály Music Educators of America Conference

September 29, 2001

Printed in MKMEA Bulletin, Winter 2002, Vol. XXX No. 2