Last week, our televisions came alive with The Sound of Music. Over 18 million people tuned in nationwide (including myself) to watch NBC's live broadcast of the musical classic starring Carrie Underwood. Personally, I was over-the-moon excited. I'm a theater fanatic and grew up on The Sound of Music—my grandmother popped it in the VCR every chance she got. I was thrilled that the artform often reserved for limited audiences in theaters—my passion that has given me so much—would be introduced to the masses.
The story of The Sound of Music teaches many lessons: that we should give people a chance, that we should embrace emotion rather than close off from it, that we should stand up for what's right. But, more importantly, there is so much we can learn from the arts as a medium. The performing arts were so instrumental in shaping who I am, it was the topic of my college admissions essay.
Yet, the arts are often the first department to undergo budget cuts when funding is tight. This is a dangerous tightrope we walk, since music, dance, and all aspects of theater can teach children an array of necessary life skills, in addition to the artistic skill of choice. As actor Jay Armstrong Johnson told Playbill.com "Music is math. Theatre is English. Tech is science. Dance is physical education. The arts are everything." Now there is research that shows involvement in music correlates with higher academic performance and that being a musician slows cognitive decline.
To put on a performance, there are a myriad of moving parts that need to operate in sync, from the actors to the band to the stage crew. Theater taught me how to work as part of a team. Moreover, it taught me how to collaborate and merge ideas to improve the final product. You see, first we'd learn our music with the music director while the orchestra was learning their music with the band director. Our choreographer had a responsibility to communicate the story of a musical number through movement, but she also had to cater the dance moves so that we weren't expected sing a high C while running out of breath in a kickline. As I watched each leader negotiate and compromise, I learned how to do the same.
I learned what it is to commit to something. Downbeat was at 6pm and timeliness was key. I was responsible for attending rehearsals (sometimes 6 days a week) and being on time. I learned how to be disciplined, to work hard, and refine a skill. My directors set an incredibly high bar for the quality they expected in our performance—we could rehearse a single 5-second dance sequence 20 times until we got it right. But as I shot for the stars, as I worked my butt off to impress them, I learned how to exceed those expectations and make myself proud. I learned to trust—to have faith that my crew would not push a stage piece right into me, to know my dance partner would not drop me, to believe that my directors had a vision.
Now I know what you're thinking, all of this can be learned on a sports team or on a debate team. Perhaps. But the one thing the arts can teach that nothing else can: the ability to effectively communicate emotion, even if you don't speak the same language. The sound of music carries with it an innate ability to connect us. Songs can make our hearts soar, powerful movement can fill our souls and it is that learned capacity for emotion that I find the most valuable of all.