Drop the Beethoven

DROP THE BEETHOVEN: Seven Benefits of Music Instruction on the Developing Brain      By Courtney Pagel, UW-Eau Claire Intern

So, we’ve all heard the rumor that listening to classical music will make your baby smarter. Well, as many of us have found out, that’s not really true. However, while listening to Mozart won’t make your baby smarter, playing Mozart might. That’s right, the 100 billion neurons that make up a person’s brain is like a learning biography, and if something is repeated enough, it can permanently change the way a person thinks! Such is the case with children and music instruction. Susan Hallam of the Institute of Education for the University of London, UK has gathered several studies documenting the incredible benefits music on the developing brain. Here are just a few of the ways a child’s brain can be positively impacted by music instruction.

  • Enhances Perceptual and Language Skills

While an obvious benefit of music education is the careful auditory processing associated with determining pitch, it is important to remember this skill extends past music itself. Language has its own varying degrees of pitches and rhythms, and music instruction can help in identifying these sounds. A study done in 2007 shows musical training better helps children distinguish between rapidly changing sounds, increasing awareness between different sounds in words (Wong, Skoe, Russo, Dees, & Kraus). Musical training improves how the brain processes speech.

  • Increases Literacy Skills

It only follows that if musical training can improve a child’s ability to learn language, it can also help enhance their literacy skills. Ron Butzlaff of the Journal of Aesthetic Education, found a positive relationship between musical instruction and standardized reading scores while analyzing 24 different studies on childhood literacy. Because kids are better able to distinguish between different kinds of sounds, they learn how to make these sounds and apply them to written language.

  • Boosts Numeracy Skills

Another part of literacy is the processing of numbers and math, which has had mixed results in relation to music education. While some studies find a connection between music education and high math scores, there is not enough of a relationship to suggest it may be a cause. So, before you start thinking music will make your kid a math whiz, it is important to remember that every child learns differently, and their math skills may or may not be affected by musical instruction.

  • Supplements Intellectual Development

“Intellectual development” sounds like a very broad term, but it is intended to measure a child’s spatial awareness (i.e., the relationship between two or more objects) as well as being aware of one’s place in a physical space. For example, if a child can tell whether a ball on the ground is far away from them or not. A study examining the effects of musical instruction on spatial reasoning showed children with instructions in keyboard scored significantly higher on spatial recognition tests (Hallam 275). But there is also a debate about what kind of music helps kids’ intellectual development. Researchers from the University of Oxford discovered rhythmic instruction contributes more to literacy and math skills, while education in pitch and melody support language development.

  • Encourages Creativity

There’s no question having an artistic outlet like drawing and painting fosters creativity in a lot of people, especially children. But how can music, something that is so structured and distinct, encourage creativity in kids? For whatever reason, researchers haven’t really paid much attention to this. However, a few older studies, including one done in 1969, found that out of 173 music and 45 non-music high-school students, the musically trained students scored higher on several creativity tests (Hallam 277). Creativity in music is something I think should be studied more because it would give kids more confidence in their sounds and rhythms if they had time to just experiment.

  • Contributes to Positive Personal and Social Development

For many children, playing in a band or singing in a choir can have enormous benefits to their social and emotional health. Many students who participated in musical activities reported talking more with their parents and teachers, the social benefits of which lead to higher self-esteem, higher self-awareness, and an improved self-image. Also, students reported the benefits of contributing to the group and to a larger goal. The social benefits of music education are endless and this is by no means an exhaustive list. However, it is important to realize that for a student to reap the social and personal benefits of music instruction, those experiences must be positive, so encouragement and support from parents and teachers goes a long way.

  • Leads to Increased Physical Development, Health, and Well-Being

The last benefit I want to highlight is the increase in physical development, health, and well-being caused by participating in musical activities. Even though music is not considered a physical activity, it’s difficult to deny the enhanced lung function and fine motor skills that comes with playing an instrument. On an emotional level, a 2001 study from the Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health found members of a university choir reported improved mood and stress reduction as a result of musical participation. Much like the list of social advantages, the list of possible health benefits is endless.

Before you or your neighbors start looking for music instructors around the area, it is important to remember children won’t reap any of these benefits if they are not actively engaged with the instruction; music should be something the child wants to do, not something they’re forced to do.  Additionally, this is a passion that can begin at home; parents can foster musical creativity in children by encouraging their singing and dancing, and even their banging on desks and tables, pots and pans. Music is also one of the only activities that stimulates the entire brain, and those seven benefits are only a handful of a countless number which have yet to be experienced by a new generation of students. So, before you turn on that Beethoven sonata, let your child sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the twelfth time today; as you can see, it’s worth it.

2017 Upcoming FAMILY MUSIC Events at the Heyde Center

 Heebie Jeebies ft. Glen Everhart, Sunday, November 5 at 2pm                                         Kids will wiggle, giggle, and dance along with the fun music of Glen Everhart.

Northwinds British Brass Band, Sunday, November 26 at 2pm                        Experience the power of local musicians participating in a full brass band concert. YOUTH UNDER AGE 18 ARE FREE!

Holiday Concert by Hillcrest and Southview After-School Choirs, Tuesday, December 5 at 7:00pm                                                                                                                FREE concert by the after-school choirs of two local elementary schools.

Christmas Singalong, Thursday, December 7 at 6:00pm                                                FREE singalong concert for the entire family led by members of the Chippewa Valley Community Chorus. Beverages and snacks available for sale.


Works Cited

Hallam, Susan. “The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social and Personal

Development of Children and Young People.” International Journal of Music Education, vol. 28, no. 3, 2010, pp. 269–289., doi:10.1177/0255761410370658.

Locker, Melissa. “Music Can Alter Your Child’s Brain.” Time, Time, 16 Dec. 2014,


Hugh Mandelert Retrospective: Art & Addiction

If you ever find yourself googling “Chippewa Valley artwork,” you’re very likely to find a broad range of results, including from students, professionals, and the various studios around the city. However, mixed with these results is the paintings of Hugh Mandelert. Capturing the essence of the Chippewa Valley by elevating local scenery into art, Mandelert stood out as one of the most popular painters in the area, and remains so even after his death in 2001. But while many see the beautiful twists of the Chippewa River and peacefulness of the bandstand in Irvine Park, very few paintings bore witness to Mandelert’s recovery from alcoholism.

The Hugh Mandelert Retrospective: Art and Addiction, now on display at the Heyde Center for the Arts, is an exhibit hoping to serve as a catalyst for a community dialogue about chemical dependency issues in the Chippewa Valley. Mandelert’s status as a well-respected, professional artist can help decrease the stigma attached to chemical dependency as well as inspire compassion, community support, and explore ways to move forward.

A native of Chippewa Falls, Hugh was born on October 23, 1927 to Gertrude and Charles Lloyd Mandelert. According to his nephew, Jim Mandelert, Hugh started abusing alcohol when in his early teens. He attended school in Chippewa Falls until his senior year of high school, which was spent at The Hill School in Pennsylvania. He graduated from The Hill and spent his next three years studying art at the Minneapolis Art Institute before finishing his formal training by going on an art tour of France and Italy for sixth months.

For the next twenty years, Hugh would be working in New York in a few artistic categories: fashion advertising, wallpaper design, and package design, just to name a few. It was there that his ongoing addiction to alcohol, resulted in a stay at New York’s Bellevue Hospital with the Delirium Tremens (aka DTs). Mandelert moved back to the Chippewa Valley with the help of his brother, Joe, in 1972 where he started a new career as the art instructor at the Chippewa Valley vocational school. After that program ended, the artist instructed painting classes in the building that was formerly known as the “McDonell Memorial Catholic High School” [but now houses the Heyde Center for the Arts], and eventually his home studio until his death on October 2, 2001 (The Chippewa Herald).

In researching Hugh Mandelert, his artwork, and his life, I found it extremely difficult to find almost anything about his struggle with alcoholism. To better understand why, I interviewed Dr. Douglas Matthews of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who teaches courses in the psychology of addiction. Matthews states that while addiction cuts across all demographic boundaries, including race, class, and religion, it is strongly influenced by environmental and personality type. Additionally, while some addicts may choose to talk about their addiction as part of their therapy, others choose not to, preferring to handle their addiction more privately.

It is common to judge addicts as people who make bad decisions or are weak-willed, even though the situation is typically much more complex and individualized. While Matthews believes society is beginning to move away from stigmatizing addiction, more research would be a helpful tool in demonstrating the biological basis of addiction, and increased recognition that addiction is not solely based on an individual’s decisions. A large part of the stigma arises from people judging others for falling short of their own personal standard of living without recognizing the situation of the addict is different than their own. It is easy to judge a situation without sympathizing with it.

Art serves as a tool for cultural as well as personal expression. Art is the soul’s expression of what the mind cannot comprehend or put into words. While therapy must be tailored to the individual, art therapy can still be a powerful tool for some in exploring inner struggles. Dr. Mickey Crothers, a clinical therapist and professor at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire says it is sometimes easier to reference the lyrics of a song or a piece of poetry rather than put one’s addiction experience into words. Additionally, Crothers theorizes—she maintains she is not certain of this—art can potentially take the place of self-harm as a way of expression; something harmful can be turned into something healthy and beautiful. Sharing one’s art is also a way to build community and connection, which can significantly decrease isolation and help create a support system for the recovering addict.

Dr. Matthews maintains that changing one’s context is extremely important for a recovering addict, “One of the reasons addicts relapse so often is they continue inside the same context they’re in, and that could be location, that could be friends, that could be job… the problem most addicts have is they go in, recover, they come out clean, and they go right back into the same environment they were addicted in. Is it any wonder that they fall again?”

In Mandelert’s situation, moving from New York City to Chippewa Falls may have been one of the key aspects of his recovery. Moving on and recovering from addiction includes more than just leaving the substance behind, it is also about leaving behind the lifestyle, the environment, and the feelings that come with it.

Finally, Dr. Crothers states, “Sometimes the pain people in addiction can experience is beyond anywhere language can go…The heavy stigma, more so than most mental illnesses, but the stigma of failure, and that’s worse, I think, for addiction than anything else in terms of knowing someone who has gone through it and recovered. That feeling of being alone is huge.” Feeling alone entails the idea that no one can understand your situation; sometimes you don’t even realize what you’re feeling. By returning home and changing his context, Hugh Mandelert made isolation less likely. By changing his environment, he changed his habits for the better. He showed the Chippewa Valley the extraordinary aspects of day-to-day ordinary scenery. By focusing on the community all around him, Mandelert created a place for himself to heal.

Written by Courtney Pagel, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Intern