Saturday, December 22, 2012
Violins, Not Violence (An Open Letter to Wayne LaPierre and the NRA)
Dear Mr. LaPierre,
We are all traumatized by last week's events in Newtown, Connecticut. We want answers; what's more, we want solutions. You've proposed one: put an armed guard in every school.
In itself, it's not a bad idea. You're right when you point out that lots of places and people have armed guards already, so why not our schools? As a solution, though, it's pretty naive. As some critics were quick remind us, there was already an armed police presence at many of the places that have seen terrible mass shootings (Columbine, Virginia Tech); it didn't help. The police can't be everywhere, so how many would we need? One in every classroom? One in every store, clinic, and movie theater? When would there be enough?
You pointed to the culture as a source of the problem, and that may be a better step in the right direction. (Although I must say that I thought your comments were simplistic, and I was horrified by your notion that we need to register all people with mental illness. What a terrible, un-American idea--from a group that passionately defends a constitutional right, no less!)
How do we change our culture and make it less violent? I have a suggestion. Let's give every kid in the United States a musical instrument. Let's teach every kid to play them, and let's have every kid play in bands, orchestras, guitar ensembles, steel drum bands, sing in choirs, and make music any way we can think of.
In all the things I've heard about the shooters, I've never heard that one of them was in a musical group at school. They're loners. But you can't be a loner in the choir, band, or orchestra--you have to be part of the group, and people will pay attention to you. What's more, you get to work with others--all different kinds of others--to make something beautiful and worthwhile. And if you were troubled and starting to go over the edge, I'll bet somebody in that group would notice and would do something to help you.
This isn't just a pipe dream. It works. It's worked in Venezuela's El Sistema. It works in Brazil, where the government has made music a universal requirement in elementary and secondary schools. In Paraguay, there's a town where the kids care so much about making music that they construct musical instruments out of things they find in the landfill.
Music is a way of directing energy. It's a way to show kids what they can accomplish by breaking a problem down to its component parts and working on it consistently and systematically. It's a way of developing the discipline to persevere. And in the end, you're making music. You're doing something constructive and beautiful.
Your problem, Mr. LaPierre, is that you can't see past the end of your gun. The only solution you can see to gun violence is more guns, which seems a bit like saying that the cure for alcoholism is more liquor. You want good guys to have guns so that bad guys can be stopped. I want people to be less interested in using guns for violent purposes.
My idea is no more a panacea than yours is, but it's a lot more positive. We will need a variety of approaches to make our culture less violent and less dangerous. So put more armed guards in schools if you want, but put more violins there, too. Maybe then, the only gunfire our kids will hear is the sound of the cannons at the end of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
(I teach music at Arizona State University and direct choirs in Arizona and Maine.)
ADDENDUM (Corrected version): The earlier version of this referred to armed military personnel at Fort Hood as an example of a place where people with arms couldn't always help. A commenter pointed out that soldiers don't carry weapons on military bases.
Posted by David Schildkret at 8:13 AM