Needless to say, the NFL has been in the news this week for all of the wrong reasons. Aaron Hernandez's alleged body count continues to rise. Ausar Walcott, briefly a rookie linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, was arrested, and subsequently released by the Browns, for attempted murder after an altercation in New Jersey. Josh Brent of the Dallas Cowboys--best known for being the driver in a DUI accident during the season that took the life of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown--just failed another drug test. The NFL's detractors want you to know that a staggering 31 players have been arrested since the conclusion of Super Bowl XLVII.
Well, the Falcons are in the news for something a little different. Offensive guard Justin Blalock was honored as a guest conductor and played tuba with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra last night in an event that promoted youth involvement in music education programs. The "Side by Side" concert featured the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra alongside the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and the orchestra's Talent Development Program.
This is the second time Blalock has performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, after officially partnering with them in 2012 as ASO's "When I Play Music" campaign spokesperson. The campaign supports music education initiatives, an endeavor that is important to Blalock.
Blalock, a self-described "renaissance man," has played the tuba since sixth grade, when students were faced with a mandatory choice of orchestra, band or chorus. He continued to play the tuba until recruiting issues shifted his focus and priorities toward football during his junior year of high school, making it more difficult to join the marching band on the field at halftime. In addition to being a "first-rate tuba player," according to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra president Stanley Romanstein, Blalock plays guitar and drums.
It's widely accepted that music education benefits students academically and in life in general. Through learning an instrument and performing, students develop an understanding of perseverance, and learn to focus their attention and work collaboratively with others. These are all skills that support academic performance, and are necessary for success in life in general. Data from the College Board, which administers AP tests and SAT tests and serves as an educational advocacy organization, suggests that students who participate in four years of arts or music education in high school outperform their peers on the SAT by an average of 91 points.
Blalock is well-aware of the advantages gained by participating in music, and credits football and playing the tuba with helping him succeed as a scholar-athlete. "It's a fact--when kids play music, they achieve higher test scores, are more likely to become community leaders, have more confidence, and experience a sense of achievement," Blalock says.
Blalock is passionate about helping to facilitate youth achievement in the classroom, in athletics, and in music. In addition to his ongoing involvement with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Blalock hosts an annual football camp, provides standardized test preparation and scholarship workshops through his foundation, and operates an incentive and recognition program for students in the greater Atlanta metro area to acknowledge and encourage excellence in the classroom. Blalock's charitable efforts primarily benefit children in the Atlanta area as well as his home state of Texas.
During a week when it seems that every bit of news that comes out of the NFL paints the league and the players in a negative light, it's refreshing to hear about a Falcons player giving back, and especially in a way that is somewhat unexpected in the National Football League. Visit the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra website for the "When I Play Music" campaign for more information on supporting these efforts, and watch this brief video where Blalock explains the importance of this campaign. A small donation of $5 will provide one hour of music lessons for one child.