In October 2014 I was fortunate enough to spend time in New York and Chicago with Little Kids Rock, a not-for-profit organisation who are very akin to Musical Futures in terms of values, principles and the desire to give relevant music making opportunities to all children in school.
Little Kids Rock founder David Wish is a force of brilliance, kindness and vision, who has an ability to fundraise like no other, and leads a 21-strong people organisation of equally brilliant and dedicated individuals (particularly Bryan Powell our committed host for the week). My colleague Anna Gower has blogged more about our visit and Little Kids Rock unrelentless commitment to ‘doing it for the kids’ here.
However, the defining moment I will came away with was from a fairly bog-standard classroom in a school in Queens, on a rainy Thursday afternoon.
We observed a classroom music lesson, where the teacher was using the Little Kids Rock methodology to get a whole class of students playing ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors. Most were on guitars, with a few on keyboard, and one boy, Jake*, on drums. The class teacher had invited Jake’s parents into the classroom to hear him play. His parents clearly weren’t that comfortable with being in a classroom situation. I did learn from them that at their respective homes Jake was ‘always banging things’, like chairs and cushions, and they knew that in school the teacher had given him access to the drums, but they hadn’t heard him play before.
The class spent time working on the melodic and harmonic aspects of the song, while Jake sat looking bored, as did his parents. It got to the part where they wanted to play the song as a class, the teacher got his audio recorder out, and counted Jake in. With Jake playing, the whole song came together. The other kids responded brilliantly to him, he was a natural drummer, was sensitive but passionate, and very talented. Observing it as a musician I got that hairs-on- the-back-of-your-neck feeling of seeing a group come together to make some good quality music where it all ‘just works’. I then noticed the parents faces. They were beaming from ear to ear, and both of them had tears rolling down their cheeks. The pride and admiration they had for their son was so overwhelming, I found myself welling up as well.
I talked to them again afterwards and they were different people – animated, and gushing with pride and enthusiasm for what they had just seen. His mother then opened up to me about how Jake has been diagnosed with ADHD, how he has high levels of anxiety about coming to school, and often truants, but since being given more responsibility and tuition with the music he loves they are noticing an improvement in his anxiety overall. She mistook me for somebody from Little Kids Rock, and thanked me for the valuable work we were doing in schools. When Jake came over they both hugged him and told him how proud they were and, despite doing a quick backward glance to check his mates weren’t watching, Jake was clearly brimming with pride as well.
The majority of parents, no matter what their understanding of or own experiences in the school system is, want to see their children enjoying and achieving. This is an assumption, but I can almost guarantee parents evenings generally weren’t events Jake’s parents would look forward to. The moment in that classroom for them however was transformational, they could see first-hand how motivated and talented their son was, and were shown the true value of a good music education. I can guarantee they will tell all their friends and family about what they had seen, and what better advocates for classroom music could you wish for?
Performances in assemblies or concerts are also often transformational and inspirational. However, this shouldn’t be the only access parents have to their child’s music education. We should open up music classrooms to parents on a regular basis, as it is in our classrooms that these utterly magical and powerful moments happen.
It is this consideration, among others, that I will be taking back to our own Musical Futures work: good music education has the potential to impact much more broadly than the classroom, even if this is where it starts, and I would like to thank Little Kids Rock for reminding me of this.
Post updated 5th December 2016