By Ann Meier Baker
Most children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, will tell you of their dreams to become a football player, a rock star, a doctor, a pilot – even President of the United States. I have yet to hear a child tell me, “I want to sing in chorus.”
And yet when you look at the biography of many successful athletes, singers, doctors, and other professionals – including Beyonce, Brad Pitt, football great Terry Bradshaw, attorney Alan Dershowitz, and yes, even our current president—you’ll find that one thing they have in common is that as children they all sang in a school or community choir.
A new study commissioned by my organization, Chorus America, confirms what many have long suspected: children who sing in a chorus are more likely to do well academically and develop critical social skills.
The Chorus Impact Study also found that adult choral singers exhibit increased civic involvement, volunteerism, philanthropy, and support of other art forms, when compared with non-singers.
These findings for both children and adults make the case for keeping chorus programs alive in our public schools and communities. But unfortunately, chorus programs are all too often the first to go and the last to be restored in school budgets. What educators and parents may not know is that by cutting these programs they are missing an opportunity for bolstering student achievement and engagement in their schools. Among the key findings of our study:
Children who participate in a chorus get significantly better grades than children who have never sung in a choir. More than 80 percent of educators surveyed—across multiple academic disciplines—agree with parents that choir participation can enhance numerous aspects of a child’s social development and academic success.
Ninety percent of educators believe singing in a choir can keep some students engaged in school who might otherwise be lost—this is particularly true of the 94 percent of educators who describe the ethnicity of their schools as diverse.
Even in these tough times, choral singing should be a recession-proof school activity. It’s one of the most accessible art forms available, with fewer economic, cultural, and educational barriers than those posed by other activities. Not everyone can play a violin, dance in toe shoes, or act in a Shakespeare drama—and not everyone can afford instruments or lessons—but most everyone can carry a tune. It’s something that can be done throughout a lifetime, and done well, without a great deal of formal training or expensive equipment.
That’s not to say that choruses should be supported at the expense of other school activities. The arts and sports are often pitted as rivals for scarce resources, but the fact is, children who sing in choruses are significantly more likely to be sports participants as well: 64 percent of kids currently in choirs regularly participate in one or more sports either in or out of school.
The same is true of other activities: 55 percent of current children choristers also participate in one or more other activities; only 33 percent of children who don’t sing are doing the same.
Clearly choruses are not the only extracurricular activity most of these children are participating in, yet our study found that parents definitively date their child’s improvements in a variety of areas to their joining a choral group. That, and the breadth of benefits described by both parents and educators, argues for a unique “chorus effect,” one that isn’t simply replicated by participation in other extracurriculars.
What can you do to support choral programs? If your school or community lacks a program, start one using our Parent Guide: Advocating for the Choral Arts in Your Child’s School, available online at www.chorusamerica.org.
If your school’s existing programs are at risk, download Chorus America’s Chorus Impact Study to help make the case for continued funding. And if your school already has a thriving chorus program, then help to support it and sing its praises all you can! Not every chorister becomes a Beyonce or a Justin Timberlake or President of the United States – but the evidence shows that singing in a chorus gets you off to a really good start.
Baker is the president and CEO of Chorus America.
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