Last week, the New York Times published an opinion piece titled, “Is Music the Key to Success?” and noted that some well-known and successful people had one thing in common: they all took music lessons.
The author of the piece, Joanne Lipman, cited Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State), Alan Greenspan (former Chairman of the Federal Reserve), Bruce Kovner (hedge fund billionaire), Andrea Mitchell (broadcaster), Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steven Spielberg (movie producer) for their classical music training. Recently Nobel prize winner in medicine, Thomas Sudhof, even said that he owes his success to his bassoon teacher.
Lipman asked the question, “What is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?” She said that music “opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.”
Many of you have also heard of the El Sistema program which began in Venezuela by José Antonio Abreu. It is now a state foundation which oversees Venezuela’s 125 youth orchestras and includes 310,000 to 370,000 children around the country, 70-90% of whom come from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Abreu says “Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values—solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings.”
There is even an El Sistema program in Hawaii and one of its venues happens at the place I work, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Palama, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Honolulu and adjacent to Mayor Wright public housing. The Executive Director of El Sistema in Hawaii, Louise Lanzilotti, says that her goal is not to create professional musicians—it is to build model citizens. Through classical music, the aim is to lift these children out of poverty.
Years ago one of my students attended a graduation at Interlochen Center for the Arts in which the graduation speaker was the CEO of General Motors. He said given equal abilities between a science graduate and a music school graduate, he would hire the musician — because to become a musician you need to know discipline, focus and commitment.