The Mr. Rogers Effect on Music Education
Updated: Jun 17
Mr. Rogers is well known for his TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. What many may not know is that he was also a talented pianist. When Fred was just a toddler, his mother and grandmother could see his intense interest in music. They bought him a small pump organ for twenty-five dollars and he quickly learned to play by ear. Being a shy child, Fred found music and the piano as a way to express himself. Fred, being very close with his grandmother, “Nana”, he confided in her about wanting his own piano. His grandmother purchased a nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano for him and he used this piano for the remainder of his life. This piano cost around $3,000 in 1936 and was a 16 year old piano, fully restored. Today, this piano would cost roughly $130,000. Although this may seem like an extravagant purchase for a child, this piano not only changed Fred Rogers’ life but indirectly the lives of millions of people who have watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Fred Rogers’ wrote the famous Won’t You Be My Neighbor song in 1963 for his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which began in Canada. The song was then transferred over when his show moved to the United States. Art Williams, Faulkner University Professor said, “Fred said music was the heartbeat of it all. The program had a musical grid. He even composed the script in sonata form.” Sonata form is referring to the layout of a sonata which consists of an exposition, the beginning, the development, the middle and the recapitulation, the end. For Rogers, the exposition would be an object he brought in to set the idea for the day. The development would consist of traveling through the idea as it unfolded. Then to end, recapitulation, he would revisit and interpret all of the ideas of the day. The idea behind this level of routine and consistency was to create a level of calm, something the viewer, specifically children, could depend on.
Mr. Rogers put so much love and thought into every episode he worked to create. His desire to help children navigate their emotions made such a positive impact on every child that watched his show and even many adults. As a music teacher, I love seeing how much music played a role in a show to help children. Music is such an impactful tool in many areas of life and Mr. Rogers proved that. The show featured many original compositions with a positive message. The show even featured posters and other art on the set that encouraged music lessons and positive attitudes towards music. Often, the show also featured a musical guest. Mr. Rogers’ desire for children to learn music has carried on long after his death and many people will hold the memory of him and his show fondly in their hearts for years to come.