At some schools, the subjects of music and art share an unfortunate common fate even today: neither is taken seriously, least of all by teachers of other subjects. After all, art class isn’t primarily about achievement but about self-expression, schooling one’s eyes and ears, and exploring how artists experienced their times, the traces they left behind, and the stories they can tell us about the past. Music class, for its part, is governed by other rules than, say, mathematics. It’s not about right or wrong, nor is it about pressure to get or compete for the best marks. Especially in an achievement-oriented society, as ours is increasingly becoming, such school subjects are like little islands where young people can relax and allow their attention to shift to something other than marks and test scores.

Back in my own school days, music class was unusually important—which was owed mainly to how our headmistress had herself once played in an orchestra before beginning her school career after some tragic reason or other had forced her to give up her work as a musician. And though she’d put away her instrument—the cello—for good, she hadn’t put away her love of music. Our school was known for its choir, there were various electives with instrumental lessons, and every year featured multiple concerts by our school orchestra, whose volunteer members enjoyed spending their free time in rehearsals—not least because it was viewed as cool to have made it into the orchestra. There’s so much from those days that I can no longer remember. But even now, I’m fond of thinking back to that feeling of togetherness when we sang, of being able to let go in music class, of those many performances with choir and orchestra. Of math class, on the other hand, I no longer have any memories at all.

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