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As we all know, in these tough economic times, many school districts are being forced to cut beloved programs because of a lack of funding. The losses are hurting our schools, but one area that is in specific danger is our music programs.

It seems that in the minds of many budget committees and superintendents, the arts are frequently considered a disposable area, seen as more for student enjoyment than for intellectual development. On the contrary, participation in the arts often helps students develop skills and habits that are very helpful in more academic ventures.

Making music in a band, orchestra or chorus teaches students how to be responsible and value commitment. Unlike in a classroom, you can't hide in a musical ensemble. If you play a note out of tune or sing during a rest, your mistake lessens the performance quality of the entire group. Therefore, each student needs to practice her/his part to contribute to the whole ensemble. You also learn how to make a commitment. If you miss several rehearsals, you can't master what others were taught and that negatively affects the group. If you are less dedicated to your music, the ensemble will suffer as a result. These skills and values easily translate back to the classroom, helping students be more responsible and committed to their schoolwork.

Studies have proven that musical experiences actually improve academic performance, self-esteem and cognitive ability. There is a strong relationship between music participation and academic honors and overall grade point average. I play violin in my school's symphonic orchestra and sing in two ensembles and I can see this in action. Many of the teens that are in these ensembles with me are in honors or AP level classes, often valedictorians and generally other high academic performers.

That's not even mentioning that it's fun! With the academic excellence that is expected from so many high school students these days, it's important to let students enjoy themselves, at least every once in a while. Most students create lifelong bonds with the other students in their band, orchestra or choir. Working together as a team toward common goals creates important relationships and the ability to collaborate and work for the common good.

Another important ability that can be taught and/or enhanced through participation in music is perseverance. Many schools in the Buffalo area pride themselves on the high level of musical excellence their students are able to achieve. This proficiency is not attained without a large amount of dedication and focused work. Even students who have been playing their instruments or studying vocal music upward of 10 years are still challenged by the music their conductors and directors choose. To learn to perform such difficult music, the students have to push themselves. That same drive is typically applied to their schoolwork.

Without a doubt, the abilities, values and character lessons that students learn through music can translate to their everyday life. Involvement in music can lead to success in life, whether it is in college, on the job or in one's personal life.

Former President Bill Clinton said it best: "Music is about communication, creativity and cooperation, and, by studying music in school, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives and experience the world from a new perspective."

Many administrators and even some parents don't see the benefit of keeping music alive in our schools. Yet the skills, character and values that music instills in children is an experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom.

For a large number of school districts, budget votes are approaching, the time when these potentially tragic cuts are made. Please, everyone, go to your district's school board meeting and speak up for whatever is important to you. Whether you value sports, music or art, do everything you can to make sure your district knows what is important to its students.

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Justice Namaste is a junior at Williamsville East High School.