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Let’s Talk About Music

Each person has several immutable truths which provide definition and direction to their lives, and embracing/capitalizing on those truths very often lead to creative explosions, greater understanding of the world around them, and experiencing deep emotional/physical/spiritual connections.  These truths can be personality traits, tastes and preferences, passions, or as Mike Brown, founder of The Brainzooming™ Group, details, “distinctive talents.”

Chances are that if you’ve ever had a 5-10 minute conversation with me, you may have discovered that one of my truths revolves around music, specifically that it exists and communicates to the very core of my being.  This is also evident to those who have seen my iTunes library or slightly excessive record collection.  Getting back to the point, this truth is not only a passion of mine, but a distinctive talent as well.  Now, I can’t play a coherent note on any instrument and I’m not going to be winning a reality show singing contest any time soon, but ask me to put together a playlist that has a specific theme, communicates a certain emotion, or that supplements a conference experience, and I become a hyper-focused musical producer.  This is all well and good for me, but how does this relate to why you’re here (I’m assuming), which is higher education?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently posted a wonderfully well-written article by Mark Edmundson entitled, “Can Music Save Your Life?” which, among other things, speculated about the impact that music has on our students’ behaviors and discussed how impressively inarticulate most of us are when it comes to how/why music affects us.  Obviously this article stood out to me, but it did so on a much larger scale, especially when it comes my work with students.  It’s not a stretch to say that nearly all of our college students listen to and enjoy music on a daily basis, but how often have we related their experiences with and connections to the music they surround themselves with in our conversations with them?  I’d venture to say rarely, if ever.

Consider for a moment the idea I discussed in my previous blog post about speaking the language of our students.  In it, I provided numerous statistics and examples of why it is so important to use social media to connect with our students in ways which they connect and communicate.  However, if we stick with the theme of speaking their language, social media — for all of its popularity and usage — pales in comparison to the universal access and usage of music, and yet this is almost never focused on when discussing student development and understanding student behavior.  Why is that?  Surely even we spend a good deal of time connecting in our own ways to music, if for no other reason but it passes the time and provides us with a modicum of enjoyment, but we don’t even consider relating this common bond we share with students in our work with them.  Again, why is that?

Mark Edmundson shared in his article that the perspective students have that the music they listen to doesn’t affect their behavior/attitudes/beliefs is roughly the same as saying the food you eat doesn’t affect how you physically feel.  This is a wonderful insight he provides, because it perfectly illustrates the connection music has to the inner workings of our students.  Learning about and understanding the music college students listen to gives us a glimpse into who they are and potentially what they believe, which is invaluable to us as higher education professionals.  To compound on this further, Mark discusses the struggle he had growing up understanding why/how music resonated with him and how most of our students are no different, falling silent when approached about what music means to them.  We might even feel the same in this regard, and that’s important to note.  If we can understand the gravity music plays in our own lives, we become much more tuned in to the effect it can have in our student’s lives, as well as being able to facilitate discussions delving into the student-music relationship.

Combining the connection to music and the dialogue of understanding with our work with students can improve our working relationships with them, give us another tool to connect with and help them develop, and do so in a fun, outside-the-box method that heel-turns away from the canned “tell me a little about yourself” approach that tends to fall a little short in working with our current generation.  Henry Ward Beecher once said that “music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if left to itself.”  I believe this statement only further serves to reinforce the importance this medium has in our world, especially with our young people.  Therefore, it is up to us to start speaking this language with them and become trailblazers to the hearts and minds of our college students.

Do you have any stories/experiences that combine Higher Education and music?  What about your own personal connections to music?  Please take the time and share your insights below!

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