Music Teachers for the Masses

January 13, 1992

While U.S. officials worry about the brain drain of rocket scientists and nuclear weapons experts from the former Soviet Union, another exodus of talented refugees goes practically unnoticed. As The Sun's Stephen Wigler reported recently, music teachers under communism enjoyed both status and the state support to train generations of world-class performers as symbols of Soviet cultural superiority. With the collapse of the old order, the music teaching profession has fallen on hard times and many of its most highly regarded practitioners now seek to come to the West.

David Simon, principal of Baltimore's School for the Arts, thinks we may be losing a golden opportunity to strengthen arts and music education in this country by not welcoming the former Soviet music teachers with open arms. Last year, Mr. Simon's students were immeasurably enriched by the experience of having the famed Donetz Ballet Company briefly in residence at the school.

Unlike music education in the U.S., the Soviet system encouraged the development of musical talent from the earliest years and provided extra incentives for instructors who specialized in teaching very young children. One result has been that Soviet performers have dominated international music competitions for most of this century. Mr. Simon's experience with students at the School for the Arts suggests that early music education programs could be a powerful tool for building self esteem among disadvantaged urban youngsters.

Yet Americans still have a hard time with the notion that training in music and art are as essential to a well rounded education as instruction in the liberal arts and sciences. States are far more willing to spend scarce education dollars on specialized math and science high schools than on music programs in the elementary schools. Similarly, Maryland engineering firms probably will be quicker to employ ex-Soviet technicians than city and county schools will be to hire Russian music teachers. That's a pity. Now that we don't have to fight the Cold War anymore, we certainly ought to be able to afford to see top-notch teaching talent in music and art as something more than an easily expendable "frill."

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