I felt that it was important, before I left the political arena completely, to touch on an issue that keeps popping up in the mainstream press: government funding for the arts.
No matter who wins the election, arts funding is going to face a rigorous debate in the coming years, and nobody is short on speculation as to what this means. The essential formula for these articles is to juxtapose the inherent benefits of an arts background with the fact that funding is steadily declining, prompting the reader to ask an exasperated “Why?!” before meandering into a bit of varying op-ed. Given that I’ve been a music student for close to 18 years, I felt it was important that I too comment on this deeply personal issue—but seriously, if I drift toward the formula, slap me.
When it comes to music, I’ve been remarkably lucky. I went to a small elementary school where my teachers and 10 (yes, really, 10) classmates supported me every step of the way. I also found a thriving jazz education scene in my hometown where I met countless friends, colleagues, and mentors. My high school gave me multiple opportunities to play, compete, and record. When it came time for college, I was lucky to find a place where I could pursue academics without sacrificing my continued musical growth. At every juncture where I could have been turned away, I was instead propelled forward by people who genuinely wanted to help me.
This, and I hope it goes without saying, is not the typical experience. Most artists (or would-be artists) get little to no support and fight an uphill battle every day just to have the chance to do what they love. This isn’t just a missed opportunity, but a serious disadvantage to a significant part of the population. Music isn’t just a skill—it’s something you’re born with. Talent is created and nurtured, but the drive to create is something we can’t ever obtain or rid ourselves of. Like all drives, it causes pain when it can’t be expressed, but unlike other drives, its expression requires support.
Contrary to what people say, music education isn’t about gaining confidence, learning math skills, or improving mental dexterity: It’s about an insuppressible need to create. There are people in all walks of life that have this drive, and when they are given an outlet, they are able to operate at peak performance for whatever else they may do.
Arts programs aren’t designed merely to create the next generation of post-modern whatevers, but they also aren’t designed so that a 40-year-old can impress coworkers with the first 16 bars of Für Elise. Their real purpose, and ideally their real focus, is the doctor who saves lives during the day and finds his peace playing the guitar away at night. It’s about the lifelong passions and relationships that can revolve around a love of and a fluency in music.
Most importantly, it’s about giving those that are born with the drive—and it’s more people than you might think—the means to express themselves and achieve that balance.
David Ecker is a sophomore in Columbia College. Slightly Off Key runs alternate Fridays.