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Josh Groban Visits HGSE

Josh GrobanThe students sitting in Eliot Lyman Room spellbound by award-winning musician Josh Groban may have been surprised to learn that he was just as eager to hear their ideas as they were to hear his.

“I have so many more questions than answers about the ever expanding side of it [music education] – the music therapy side of it, the scientific side of it. It is fascinating to me…,” he said. “Part of why I’m here is that I’m ready to learn as well.”

Groban, who visited HGSE yesterday under the auspices of the Office for the Arts at Harvard's Learning From Performers program, spoke about the Find Your Light Foundation, the nonprofit he founded that aims to enrich the lives of young people through arts, education, and cultural awareness. Yet, he also wanted to learn from HGSE students about their work, research, and experiences working in the arts.

Groban initially began his foundation many years ago under a different name as a way for him to continue to support the various charities to which he had been a longtime contributor. However, a focus on arts education began to emerge after it became clear to Groban how it had changed so many lives including his own.

“One of the nice things about being on tour is you get to be a charity traveling band,” Groban said. “You get to see firsthand who the students are, where they come from, invite them to shows, and learn about what their programs are.”

The foundation provides instruments and funding for arts programs in schools, and introduces people to the arts and culture surrounding them and the world through the use of technology. Groban said that he is inspired by seeing young people passionate and excited about delving into the arts for the first time.

Mind Brain Education (MBE) student Rebecca Vaudreuil, who is also a music therapist, asked Groban about incorporating music therapy into his foundation.  He said he often meets people who benefitted from music therapy as part of the organization and he thinks it’s nice to see people taking the field of music therapy seriously.

“I think we are in a transition period for the better and it’s an extremely exciting time for music therapists and that research,” he said, noting how he hopes to expand this part of his foundation. “The research is showing a positive future, showing a lot of amazing information to be found.”

Jennifer Zuk, Ed.M.’10, is one of the students working in that area. She told Groban that she went into the field to find a way of creating an impact, particularly using science to show the efficacy of music and music therapy.

“There’s a lot to be told from music therapy,” Zuk said. “I think one of the interesting challenges is that there is such a disconnect within the field in working in cognitive neuroscience to do this research. But the part I haven’t seen is really how to directly translate that evidence to the programs that need the support to keep going.”

Groban, who intends to learn more about music therapy, asked Zuk what she truly saw as part of the issue in getting the research out to programs where it can make a difference.

“One thing that is special about the Ed School and MBE in particular is that you come to focus and prioritize for the translation of the research and try to see the impact, whereas perhaps those working in traditional neuroscience fields care more about getting the research out,” Zuk said.

Doctoral student Matthew Shaw pointed out the even bigger issue of policymakers often trying to link subjects that are not in Common Core to standards. “We don’t talk about art for art’s sake or music for its own sake,” Shaw said. “We talk about how music education and music programs lead to outcomes.”

Shaw asked Groban what stories he would tell to Congress and policymakers to help them see the benefits of music and music education as its own entity.

“It’s an interesting point. As convincers we are often focused on finding counter-creative ways to go in the side doors or back doors to get funding,” Groban said, admitting that as someone who benefitted from arts programs in his youth that it is often a struggle to figure out how to communicate the message to others.

“We can all do better, I suppose, when we make those arguments,” Groban said. “We are trying to make something that is very visceral ….  You are trying to explain it, and sometimes with art you just have to feel it. I would say the best way to do that is to bring the students or quartet in and rather than testify. Have a talent show, because sometimes you can’t verbalize the specialness of what you are trying to talk about.”