Skip to main content

Tuning Up: Why MBEF’s Investment in Music Matters

By December 3, 2012eNews

By Leanne Huebner;  Posted December 3rd, 2012

Starting in 1992, MBEF saved the musical day by granting funds to keep music instruction in Manhattan Beach public schools.  Today, MBUSD  offers specialized music education taught by certificated teachers to all students from first through twelfth grade.  It is one of only a few dozen districts where every elementary student receives instrumental music instruction.  And, it is among only a handful of  California K-12 districts that manages to offer standards-based curriculum in music, visual arts, theater and dance.  

Parent donations to MBEF have helped build a successful visual and performing arts program that reaches all students and attracts top music instructors.   Mira Costa’s choir director, Michael Hayden, PhD, is one such teacher.

Six years ago, Dr. Hayden was a professor and choir director at Indiana University where he taught future music teachers.  Dr. Hayden decided to leave the ivory tower of academia to get back to his roots teaching high school.  He searched for secondary school positions across the nation and found an opening at Mira Costa.  “All my research indicated that Manhattan Beach was a district that was supportive of the arts from the earliest grades, which was very attractive to me,” he says. (Read more on Dr. Hayden here.)

But why did MBEF save music education when funding ran short?   MBEF Executive Director Susan Warshaw shared the history with us. “Our music programs were then, just as they are now, quite exceptional. Our parents and teachers loved them and saw the benefit of early music education in the upper grade levels. Interestingly, when MBEF began funding music, it marked the first time private funds ‘saved’ a district program previously funded by the state.”

Making the “Music Equals Smarter” Connection

Recent studies suggest music can be connected to more active engagement, better test scores, and even increased IQ.    For instance, a 2010 Northwestern University study suggests regularly playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain and may be used to improve cognitive skills to increase IQ by an average seven points.

Other studies make the connection between music and better learning.    A 2007 study published in the Journal for Research in Music Education tied quality music education instruction to improved academic performance—specifically, better scores on standardized tests.  In 2005 it was revealed that almost all of the past winners of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for high school students played one or more instruments, supporting a connection between success in music and science.

The latest studies focus on playing instruments, which differs from the previously refuted “Mozart Effect” which focus on improvements based on just listening to music.  In 1993, University of California Irvine researcher Frances H. Rauscher reported findings of enhanced spatial task performance among college students after just listening to a Mozart sonata.   The finding sparked 15 years of studies all over the world that sought to dispel the “Mozart Effect”, according to Science Daily.   Listening just wasn’t enough.

The Musical Path of Manhattan Beach students

Today, parent donations to MBEF fund a $300,000 grant for the district’s music teachers.  This represents approximately 40 percent of the total cost of the instructors’ salaries.  The school district funds the remainder, and at middle and high school, parents help pick up additional costs.

Elementary.  MBEF helps fund general and instrumental music at the elementary level.  General music instruction is provided for first and second grade while formal instrumental instruction begins in third grade when the students choose between strings and wind instruments.  By fourth grade, choir becomes another option.  “The philosophy of the elementary program is to establish a healthy practice routine, to enjoy music expression together, and to learn how to read music,” says Katie Cavallero, strings music teacher to all five elementary schools.

Middle School.  In middle school, students may choose music as a year-long music elective.  The choir and instrumental programs regularly receive the highest ratings in competition.  Ms. Heather Gold teaches choir, including a madrigal group.   Ms. Denise Haslop teaches band and strings as well as an honors music program.

High School.  “By high school, after several years of instruction, our students arrive well trained in their musical discipline and ready to hone their talents,” says Dr. Hayden.   At Mira Costa, it seems as if the options for musical expression are endless, from choirs, to orchestra, band, ensembles, marching band, a cappella singers and musical theater.  Many groups require an audition but non-audition opportunities are available to any student.  Participation becomes a great social outlet as many students spend their free time with friends from their musical circles.

“Once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities also arise through student participation in Manhattan Beach music programs. Last spring, Mira Costa choir received an invitation through National Youth Choir to perform at Carnegie Hall – 120 students traveled to New York for the event and the group even got a featured performance spot. (Click here to view the choir at Carnegie Hall.)

Only time will tell the future of public funding for music instruction in California and across the nation. For now, through MBEF, parents have offered a generation of students the opportunity to express themselves through music. And maybe the students got a little smarter along the way, too.

Related Links and Research:

Listen for yourself.

Mira Costa’s Carnegie Hall Performance, March 2012 —

Mira Costa Band at South Bay Invitational, 2012 –

Mira Costa High School Symphony Orchestra, June 10, 2011 —

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits —

Playing a musical instrument makes you brainier –


< >