My first experience reading and understanding music was in my fifth grade band class. I was one of the slowest learners there. I was never playing the right notes at first and my rhythms were horrible, but once I did do something right it stayed that way. Things were starting to get easier with the more I learned. I know it sounds cliché but the more you learn, the easier it is to learn. This is also true in music.
From sixth grade to my junior year of high school there wasn't that much of a big change in my development. I still learned more and more but it was still all just notes on a page to me. I started reading a new clef, or format, of music and my peers even suggested that when I go to college I should become a music performance major. None of this interested me on a professional level; I just wanted to keep music as a hobby of mine but continue my high school studies of the art. That is when I decided to take a course in music theory.
My junior year of high school is when I enrolled in the music theory class that was only to be taught that year. My expectations of the class were set very high by my experience with Mr. Huffman as a teacher of the last 6 years. I knew I would learn much about the basics of music, but I never expected it to change me on the scale that it did. Not only was my understanding of music forever changed, but so was my perception of the world around me.
I won't go into much detail about the class, but I will tell you that after the very first day I studied more than I had to in any class up to that point. We were told that the class would be taught as closely to the way that he was taught in the Ohio Army National Guard. None of us were prepared for that much studying in a high school elective. As the days went by, all of the students grew closer and started helping each other out if some didn't understand the course work. Even Mr. Huffman dedicated his private time to having an open office for just the theory students to come in and get help with the material.
By the third quarter of the class many of us were seeing improvements in our grades in theory and in our other classes. We were extremely surprised to see the improvement outside of theory. A few of us talked with Mr. Huffman on a day that more than half of the class was missing due to some school activity. As a whole we asked him why everybody in the class was seeing major increases in our grades. He responded to us, “I've always supported the idea that music makes you smarter. It's not being able to play music that helps me agree with that. It's seeing the way that once someone comprehends how music is written, they understand that it works the same way as an author writes a novel. It works the same way that a scientist does an experiment to figure something out. Music has the ability to tell a deep emotional story, while it also has the ability to ask a question.” His response to a simple question we asked him left us dumbfounded. We had always heard that music makes you smarter, but we had never seen it.
Looking back on it, I should have been able to know that I was going to be changed by music. I recently talked to my friend Seth who was in the class with me. After I told him that I realized how much of an effect it had on me, he told me that he felt the same way about it. We talked about how much that one year of studying the principles of music with our now retired band director, impacted our way of thinking and learning in a way that was never before conceivable. What shocked me most is when Seth said he felt that if he never would have taken music theory, he didn't think he would have been able to make The Ohio State University Marching Band, succeed in his first year of college, or even decide what he wanted to do with his life.
When I look at the current class of fifth graders at Waverly Intermediate School, not only do I see many students with big dreams about what their futures may hold, but I see an opportunity for the music program to continue to thrive. I see kids who are just like I was when I was in fifth grade, waiting to learn what those little dots on the familiar five lined paper truly mean. I see people who will grow to understand music and have it change them in the same way it changed Seth, Mr. Huffman, and myself.