Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Utility and Benefit. . .

I have never quite figured out the extensive money and efforts to promote sports in schools (elementary to college).  It is not that I don't enjoy a good game (though football is my preferred spectator sport).  I do.  But for all the money we invest in sports, it has not borne many benefits to Americans.  We are largely sedentary in our lifestyles -- a nice way for saying, as me Mum used to say, that we sit on our lard butts too darn much.  In addition the numbers of individuals who go on to sports careers is miniscule compared to the general population.  Sports programs are costly, do not directly benefit the health and physical activity of the general population, and provide training for the vocations of but a few.  So, why do we continue to fund them so highly?

I surely know that our heros are largely drawn from the ranks of Hollywood and the stadium.  This is not exactly a great thing.  For every Tebow who seems honorable there are hosts of Barry Bonds with less than honorable pasts.  Still it seems a high price to pay just so we can have a few faces plastered on Wheaties boxes or in Nike commercials.  Is this really why we invest so heavily in sports?  To provide a few role models for our kids (a dubious goal in the first place and this turned out about as well as the sports programs have for personal health and vigorous exercise for the rest of us).

In contrast, the arts are cut at every turn.  As soon as the school runs up against a budget problem art and music feel the pain.  In fact, in my area the choral programs in schools are not choral at all (unless you consider singing melody to a CD background track choral music).  It would seem that at best we are training people to sing with their radios while they make their way into the cubicle for work every day.  While that in and of itself is not a bad thing, I would hope we expect more.

Instrumental music was once the future for those who played something in middle or high school.  Community bands, church instrumental ensembles, orchestra pits for community musicals -- why I recall the days when adults came together in the church and community dragging their beat up trombone, trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet cases to make wonderful music.  In my first parish,  nearly half the average Sunday attendance was involved in the parish music program!

To teach youth to sing was once to give them a lifelong outlet for their voices.  Glee clubs, community choirs, musical theater, church choirs, and congregational hymns provided a regular outlet for what folks once learned in school (how to read music and sing in parts).  In the dark ages when I was in school, the choirs sang largely a Capella and we competed for regional and even state honors for excellence.  Most of those folks still sing regularly (from their church choirs to the hymns and songs of Sunday morning worship).

Given the sad state of music in American churches today, I can see practical benefit to shifting some sports dollars to teaching kids to read music and sing parts once again.  More than benefiting churches, it would benefit the people -- it is a gift that keeps on giving over the whole of a person's life.  As a Pastor I know the value of hymn singing as a profound way to memorize the faith.  Take a trip to a nursing home and see how the great hymns of old awaken the sparkle in the eyes of the aged and infirm and renew their sagging spirits as they sing (in their hearts if not with their voices) as one of the people of God gathered around the Word, font, and table of the Lord again.  I long for the days when you could regularly count on at least one stanza of favorite hymns sung in parts by the folks in the pews.

The legendary choral programs of the Lutheran universities (perhaps the places where Lutheranism is still taken seriously in those institutions) are not frosting on the cake -- they give their singers skills and abilities that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  This is salutary and beneficial for the singers and not simply for those who buy the CDs or listen to the choirs touring.  Singing is a good thing and singing in church is a grand endeavor.  Would that we gave our kids something that truly would stick with them the whole of their lives instead of the great ability to sit and watch on TV the sports they wanted to play in high school but mostly didn't (sitting on the bench, instead).

So my vote goes to reintroducing the choral program into the school, spending the bucks on the bands, and bringing back musical productions (Oklahoma, anyone? -- not just for the stereotypical gay Glee wannabe, either).  In this way we at least give our kids something useful over the whole of their lives instead of merely an interest to follow the exploits of overpaid and often flawed heroes who distract us with a couple of hours of activity on AstroTurf while we eat and drink too much watching them....

From Francis Pott, who is part of a whole movement of composers from Britain who are continuing its tradition of choral music... give it a listen and know that good choral music is STILL being composed and sung!


Janis Williams said...

The book State of the Arts buy Gene Edward Vieth should be required reading.

You are correct, Fr. Peters. The Arts are the first to be removed from budgets. Not just public, but private. Ask any artist whose sales of work has almost totally dried up in the last year.

Anonymous said...

Okay, my next vacation is going to be to one of those mass choir events they have in the Baltic states. They get 20k-50k in their choirs out of nations of just a couple million.

So beautiful.

Check it out:



Anonymous said...

I am not surprised that the priorities in this country are backwards. Everything is increasingly the opposite of what it should be. Men who are not passionate about laying around in front of the TV with bags of greasy potato chips and cases of Bud Lite are labeled by everyone else as weird.

Many people are unable to carry a conversation unless it is about spectator sports. You cannot live in certain parts of the country unless you are able to converse in the same way. For example, the state religion of most Ohio residents is college football.

Every parent seems to want their kids to excel in sports in school over academics, art, or music. Parents dream of their kids getting sports scholarships to as a way to pay for college. Music scholarships mandate a student to major in an instrument; Sports scholarships do not mandate A student majoring in a sport. Colleges make a lot of money from the basketball and football programs. They do not make any money by having a marching band or an orchestra.

You wrote: "...it is a gift that keeps on giving over the whole of a person's life". How many types of sports activities can a person engage in when he/she is 70? Given what a person is still physically able to do after age 40, I wonder why so much emphasis is placed on intense contact sports such as baseball, soccer, football and basketball.

I have read of many school districts getting rid of their band programs. Such actions should be criminal. A grade school or high school only needs 5 basketball players and 4-5 extra kids to sit on the bench. What are children who are not good enough to make the school sports teams supposed to do.

By the way, Minnesota mandates Art as a required subject in K-12 schools. It is not much, but it is a start. How many other states mandate Art.


Cafeteria Lutheran

Anonymous said...

Sports teaches our high school youth
the importance of team work, hard
work, leadership, goals, how to win
with humility and lose with grace.

Sports develops a mental toughness
to cope with life. A strong mind
and a strong body makes a leader
for life. Sports is part of the
education we need to compete in
the rat race of life. The Fellowship
of Christian Athletes is great org.

Anonymous said...

A parish sports program is a great
evangelism tool. Our parish has
gotten many adult baptisms and
adult confirmands from it. As the
late Rev. Guido Merkens said, "They
come to play sports and they stay
to pray in our sanctuary."