Entertainment is Not Just Entertainment

Music educators often worry about their subject matter not being taken seriously. Other subjects like math, English, and science seem to be especially valued in our society. Most everyone agrees that it’s important that our children receive an education in these things. The subject of music, however, is sometimes relegated to the status of a frill. In many schools, music—and the other arts, for that matter—is seen as an extra-curricular or enrichment activity for students. It seems that in the minds of many, school music exists merely to provide entertainment for school assemblies, sporting events, and occasional concerts.

RockwellTrumpeterSo perhaps as music teachers and arts advocates, we need to take forth the message that music is not just entertainment. I certainly agree with this point, and support efforts to make it better known to school administrators, parents, and student musicians themselves. But I also believe we need to be careful how we go about refuting the perspective of “music as mere entertainment.” We can stray from the true nature of the arts when justify music’s place in schools through its contributions to other skills like abstract reasoning, language acquisition, math proficiency, self-discipline, and spatial intelligence. Although I believe that such transfer effects exist (some of them anyway), I’m not sure if they really make for a compelling argument. I mean, if I discover that my child is struggling with math, will my first response be to find more music opportunities for her? More likely, I’ll look to have her provided with some better math instruction.

Of course it would be silly to take the position that music is not entertainment. For many people, myself included, music is a top form of entertainment in modern life. We spend many hours of our everyday lives listening to music. We take in concerts and other events with our families and friends. And my personal favorite, we make music together…in community auditoriums, church and temple sanctuaries, park amphitheaters, and also in our living rooms, garages, and around the dinner table! These activities can be so important in our lives. Perhaps, in fighting the perception that music is just entertainment, we have missed a larger truth: entertainment is not just entertainment.

This became evident to me over the holiday season as I spent time with my family and friends. Sure, we exchanged gifts and had a few meals together (okay, more than a few). We also enjoyed some very rewarding moments together “entertaining” ourselves. Some of what we did was spectator oriented: we watched televised sporting events, saw a movie, and took in New Years Eve music performances on TV. And some of what we did I would call more participatory: we played cards and board games, sledded down a snowy hill, and even went to an indoor trampoline park. Musically, there was singing, piano and guitar playing, and I even offered up a midnight rendition of Auld Lang Syne on my trumpet when 2012 became 2013. (My friend Joel even tried his hand at deejaying on a new keyboard synthesizer that he bought for his kids, but we won’t talk about that…deadmau5 he is not! 🙂 )

These times of entertainment with family and friends are not just throw-away moments in our lives. They don’t matter less than time spent at our jobs or in carrying out the mundane tasks of home life. In fact, these times of entertainment may be the most important moments of our lives. Often this is when we feel most connected with others, when we grow and solidify relationships, and when we know that we matter to the people in our lives. And even our entertainment in solitude—our alone time listening to music, watching television, or making music for pure enjoyment—can be important moments to us as human beings. These can be critical opportunities for identity development and intrapersonal nurturing. By the music and other entertainment we choose, we can learn about ourselves, and better establish who we are.

So yes, let’s continue to get the word out that music is not merely entertainment. And let’s also not forget that entertainment itself is not just entertainment.

Copyright 2013 Robert H. Woody

Source of image: Norman Rockwell on WikiPaintings.


9 responses to “Entertainment is Not Just Entertainment

  1. Thanks, Bob, it is important to have rebuttals to long-time arguments for and against music education. I have always had an uncomfortable feeling about “running” from the “music-as- entertainment” theme. I now will incorporate some of your ideas when confronted with it! Always enjoy this blog.
    Happy New Year!



    • Chris – Good to hear from you. Thanks for checking out this post. I’m pleased to hear you’ll be able to use some of the ideas I come up with here!


  2. Dr. Woody, Well said, and so true. Entertainment is so much more than just entertaining, and musical entertainment in all its forms is so central to who we are….humans. (I read that somewhere).
    ps. like the shout out.

  3. Hi Bob,

    While media scholars write that even the spectator stuff like TV is highly participatory in ways we often ignore, I’m right there with you that music can offer a profound connection. Tom Turino claims that participatory music is perhaps the surest path to social cohesion and cohort formation.

    I think many more music educators are paying attention to some of the social benefits of music these days. From sing-along to making a YouTube video with friends, there seems to be welcome attention from teachers and scholars (and your new MEJ piece is another fine example).

    Thanks for this post,

    Matt Thibeault

    • Matt – Thanks for your comment on this post. Knowing your work, I’m not surprised some things here struck a chord with you. I’m a big fan of Tom Turino’s Music as Social Life too; it’s impacted my thinking rather profoundly over the last few years. Thanks again for reading this!


  4. I couldn’t agree with you more that the part of music that creates those things which are often hard to define are actually the things that make music a special gift in our lives. The confidence I have seen develop in students in my 3 years of teaching music at my school cannot be quantified, but yet they are more confident in who they are and what they can do musically than they were 3 years ago. Number one comment from their audiences, “the kids look like they are having fun and enjoy singing” Because I teach in a Lutheran private school and direct the music life of the church, I have seen over and over again how music creates community and belonging that other individual activities cannot replicate. This sense of musical community had not existed prior to a focus on making and participating in music and this is where you have nailed it down perfectly; we cannot forget nor ignore that music is entertaining, music is fun, music is meant to touch the heart and the soul and when we embrace this concept our discussion of why music is important becomes richer. Thanks for encouraging us all in our music making.

    • Thanks for offering some great examples in your comment, Carla. You use the word embrace and I think it really gets to the main point here. There are so many wonderful things that seem to naturally be a part of music, including its entertainment value. Embracing such aspects can only help!


  5. Reblogged this on Music Musings of Justin Schroder and commented:
    A great article to remind musician/teachers that we were drawn to music because it entertained us. Music is exciting before we can analyze it.

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