Tag: music

Hitting the Right Notes

I recently saw the movie Whiplash, which was a gripping look at the price of greatness. For those who haven’t seen the flick, it’s about a teenager jazz drummer obsessed with becoming a legendary artist.


Now, most of us are not willing to practice an instrument until our hands literally bleed, as the Whiplash protagonist does. But the good news is that you may not have to.

You see, a recent study showed that taking music lessons — just basic chord progressions, strumming skills and the like — greatly improves people’s language and reading skills.

Even more interesting is that the research was conducted on at-risk, low-income children, most of them Latino.

The researchers believe that the experience of making music creates a more efficient brain that helps a person learn and communicate better. But the study implies that at least two years of lessons are required before improvements kick in.

So what does this mean for Hispanic kids, who often live in disadvantaged areas? Well, it implies that investing in music education may help Latino children improve their learning skills and close the educational gap between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. The results also imply that for low-income students, music lessons can be as important as traditional classes in math and reading.

Because music is a key part of Latino culture, programs that offer music education will find a receptive audience in Hispanic kids. After all, I could not have been the only Latino kid who grew up on a steady diet of Santana and Julio Jaramillo. And that’s not even getting into all the salsa, rock, hip hop, and stray bits of classic country that finds its way into Latino homes.

Basically, we like to listen to a lot of music, so it should be a natural extension to get Hispanic kids to learn how to play it.

This research aligns with another recent study, which found that bilingual kids have more flexible brains and better cognitive abilities. Keep in mind that most of the demand for Spanish-language immersion schools is coming from white families who want their kids to master another language and gain exposure to diversity.

So it might not be long before you peek into a classroom and see a bunch of multiethnic kids speaking Spanish and jamming on blues standards.

Rock on.


Grab Your Maracas and Come with Me

My cousin loves the music of Tom Waits. I never saw her more excited on Christmas, in fact, than the year her sister gave her a copy of Big Time as a gift.

My cousin can groove to any tunes she wants to, of course, because she’s a Latina. It’s one of the few times that it’s advantageous to have a fuzzier, less-distinct cultural image.

If she were black, for example, exclaiming an admiration for Frank’s Wild Years would cause perplexity, and possibly outright hostility. Similarly, white people are given wide latitude in what they listen to, but if they get too far into hip-hop it comes across as slumming or co-option or a grotesque absurdity that makes all of us nervous (spare me your exceptions).

But an Hispanic can crank anything and it fits. I have another cousin who admires Johnny Cash, another who blares Ministry, and another who only listens to extended DJ remixes of techno blips and beeps (which are sounds that I’m sure will replace waterboarding as an interrogation technique).

All of it lines up, but none of it does too. So bring on the classic rock or blare some jazz or trip back to disco, because everything is equally representative.

The few Hispanic artists out there don’t present a unified front. I grew up listening to Carlos Santana, but his music is no more or less Latino-centric than Daddy Yankee, who is, of course, quite a bit different stylistically. You can go old-school with Tito Puente or Celia Cruz, but by their very nature, these artists bring up images of foreign lands and warm climates that our ancestors left behind to come to America in the first place.

So there is no music specifically associated with the Hispanic American, like hip-hop with black people or, I don’t know, The Carpenters with white people. But is this such a bad thing?

Truth be told, it’s a relief to have one aspect of life not subjected to the whims of cultural categorization. And if this is one of the few ways in which Hispanics have it easier than other ethnicities, I’ll take it. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to explain the diverse and occasionally embarrassing contents of my ipod, should it ever fall into the wrong hands.

But writing about this got me thinking about Darius Rucker. I always felt bad for the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. It was all over for him, culturally, the moment he strummed an acoustic guitar and began getting all James Taylor on everybody. He became a curiosity, even a freak. That never would have happened if he had wised up and claimed to be a very dark Cuban.

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