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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Value Of Music Education In The Workplace


Jazzy Buisness Women

The US economy is in a downward spiral in the early years of the 21st century, and ever since coming out of the throes of the 20th century, many school boards have chosen to cut arts education from their curriculum because of budget constraints. But is this a wise decision on the part of these school boards?


Joseph Calahan, Director of Corporate Communication at Xerox Corporation said, “Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence.” Dee Dickenson, CEO and founder of New Horizons for Learning research states, “A report…reveals that the schools that produce the highest academic achievement in the United States today are spending 20 – 30% of the day on the arts, with a special emphasis on music…” When one couples these two statements—one from an executive of a prominent American Corporation in the United States, and another from a school administrator who has taught from elementary through university level, a powerful message is being sent to school boards all over this country that art—but more specifically music—should be part of the curriculum.


From a personal perspective, I can add a couple of interchangeable attributes that have helped me in the workplace, and those are discipline and timing. Although very broad, they are attributes that have been derived from my musical education that are applicable in the workplace.


When you sit in an ensemble with as little as three to fifteen other musicians, it is important to know thyself. The role that you have to play while you are playing with musicians instills a certain amount of discipline and timing. As a pianist, knowing when to comp—timing; when to make a fill—timing; when to lay out for a few bars—discipline and timing; when to improvise—discipline; how to improvise—discipline, are all musical nuances that have served me well in the workplace.


Knowing thyself simply means that when playing in an ensemble, you have to assess your personal skill set against all the other ensemble players. When playing in an ensemble and you hear one of the musicians improvise, you have to assess your improvisational skill against that individual. If s/he is playing some great lines, you can immediately tell if your own skills are at that level. Having done that assessment, you will be in a position to know if you could improvise at that level or higher, or, whether you should improvise at all during the performance of that piece of music. You may decide to go home and shed for a couple of months and gain some confidence with your improvisation. What you don’t want to do is believe that you are at that level, and when it is your turn to improvise, make a fool of yourself with a bunch of bad notes, bad timing and just bad music.


A meeting in the workplace—large or small—can be analogized to an ensemble, and with the traits acquired through music education, they can be applied to the workplace in the setting of a meeting. For me, the benefits are tremendous.

If I have to be at a meeting, it is imperative to be on time for the meeting—that has to do with timing. If I am in charge of the meeting, I have to know when to call the meeting to order, and whether I do this at the precise time the meeting is scheduled for, or, if I choose to delay the start of the meeting for a specific reason, it also has to do with timing. Conversely, if I am a participant in a meeting and I get there on time, and after ten minutes realize that the meeting has not started, I have to exercise a certain amount of discipline. After making an effort to get to the meeting on time, inwardly I am pissed off because I perceive that to be a lack of respect for my time, and this is where I have to exercise a lot of discipline and not say anything. Outwardly though, I may have to exhibit a persona that says—I’m cool.


One musical attribute that a number of employees can apply to the workplace is to respect the person that is improvising—speaking, and I say that because when I get interrupted while speaking in a meeting, it drives me up a wall. In a jazz, pop, rock, fusion or R&B ensemble, at some time during the performance of a song, there will be an opportunity for improvisation. For the readers who may not know what improvisation is in an ensemble, it is a time when an instrumentalist has the opportunity to apply scales and riffs spontaneously within a given time frame and within harmonic boundaries. If the trumpet player is improvising, it is his/her time to shine, and as a piano player, I must have the discipline to stay out of his or her way while it is their turn to improvise. As a pianist, I cannot and should not improvise at the same time. So too, when I am improvising, I don’t expect the trumpeter to improvise while I am improvising. When someone is speaking in the setting of a meeting, it’s that person’s time to improvise, and therefore should not be interrupted—period. On the other hand, if you have exceptional timing and you have been listening to Max Roach or Roy Haynes, you might be able to get away with being rude. Meeting participants have to exercise a certain amount of discipline to respect the person who is improvising—or as it is applied to a meeting in the workplace—speaking.


The music program at UMass Boston is one that offers students a comprehensive music education, but how does that music education mesh with what I like to call the United Nations of university/college campuses in the metropolitan Boston area? It is a known fact that UMass Boston has students representing every continent either through migration or by being first or second generation offspring of immigrants. As comprehensive as the music program is at UMass Boston, students who come to the institution looking for genres like pop, R&B, jazz and the most explosive musical genre of the 20th and 21st century—hip hop, they are going to have be innovative and creative in finding such courses.


Centuries before these contemporary genres came on the scene, Plato, the eminent Greek philosopher said, “Music training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” Hip Hop is rife with rhythm; and while in my classical piano playing days I loved playing waltzes filled with rich harmony by one of my favorite Romantic composers, Frédéric Chopin, students at UMass Boston would relish in getting a little taste of Ellington, Hancock, Brubeck and Quincy Jones, all sprinkled with a little Nas and Missy.