Unlock 3,000 children's inner music-makers

 
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Photo Credit: Mark Jaworski
Photo Credit: Mark Jaworski

Strike a Chord

Imagine that you have the unenviable task of deciding which program to cut from your child’s school. Which do you choose?

More often than not, to the dismay of parents and teacher, the answer is music and/or arts programs.

“83% of teachers and 73% of parents say budget cuts in music education are detrimental to students?” On May 19, 2015, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM) and Grunwald Associates LLC, released a new report surrounding the hopes and beliefs parents and teachers have about music education.

One of their key findings shows that parents and teachers want to cut virtually every other program more than music and arts. But what does that really mean?

In a survey, teachers and parents were asked: Assuming a limited budget and the need for cuts, which program would you be most willing to cut from your child’s school? Please rank the following items from 1-15 with “1” being the one you’re most willing to cut and “15” being the one you’re least will to cut.

The results put music and arts education in the top 3 of programs they are LEAST willing to cut with an average score of 10.35 out of 15 by teachers and 9.78 out of 15 by parents. From the group of teachers and parents polled 76% of teachers and 64% of parents say the funding for their music and arts programs is adequate or worse, which can be detrimental to students.

After learning about these statistics, we took a look at how Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band program affected the students at PS 103 in Bronx, NY. Music teacher Amy Giangrasso says, “Opportunities like Little Kids Rock are life altering for these kids. It gives them a sense of pride, belonging to a social group and awakens a part of them that would never have been explored.”

Another teacher, Curtis Johnson from Paul Cuffe MST Academy in Chicago said, “Since [partnering with] Little Kids Rock, the Principal has learned that the students and parents want to see more funding and support for music in our school.”

So what can you do to help?

Donate Now!  A gift of just $25 creates a new spot in a music class that will benefit a new child each year.

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Little Kids Rock students!
Little Kids Rock students!

“Hold onto me, never let go… I’ll be here by your side, every second of our time. Hold onto me, never let go.”

14-year old Yancy wrote these lyrics in hopes that her song would save the life of Marcus Kanye, a young man who had developed a life-threatening disease. Even though she had never met her mother’s coworker, Yancy felt a unique connection to Marcus and wanted to give him hope.

“I felt sympathy toward him and just wanted to help,” she said. “I had faith and wanted him to feel better and brighten his spirit. The best way to do this was through music because it has a big impact on people and acts as a medicine for the human spirit.”

Music is a gift, and Yancy sees it as her responsibility to share that gift with the world. Once her third grade Little Kids Rock teacher introduced music into her life at PS. 98 in Inwood, Manhattan, Yancy not only found her voice.

“I remember the first time I practiced the song, there was one lyric that hit me emotionally,” she explains. “My voice sank as I struggled to utter the simple words: hold onto me, never let go… I’ll be here by your side, every second of our time…”

As each day passed, Yancy checked in with her mom, eager to learn about Marcus’s health. As Marcus suffered, losing weight, his vision and even his hearing, Yancy practiced.

“He was on my mind every second, and I wanted every chord and every lyric to be perfect,” Yancy said. “I tried to keep a positive attitude reminding myself that he was going to keep moving forward in life and be OK.”

Yancy’s mother recorded the song and sent it to Marcus’s family, unsure if he would even be able to hear the song that her daughter had poured out of her heart. It lifted his family’s spirits in his final days, and left a permanent mark on their hearts.

Marcus passed away shortly thereafter, and though he was not able to escape his illness, the song had a profound effect on Marcus and his family. They were touched that a little girl whom they had never met had shown so much compassion. “I’m just glad that he was able to hear the song before he passed away,” Yancy said.

Music did not save Marcus’s life, but it changed Yancy’s. It allowed her to externalize feelings of sorrow and confusion that filled her heart and taught her that though her song was not medicine for the body, it indeed was medicine for the human spirit – others’ and her own.

Your donation helped change thousands of lives like Yancy's all across the country. Little Kids Rock is serving over 180,000 students in 29 cities....now that's a lot of Rock and Roll! Thank you!

 

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Josh and his love for music!
Josh and his love for music!

“The best music…is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.” -Bruce Springsteen

As a volunteer at Little Kids Rock two summers ago, I was fortunate to be exposed to the incredible impact music has on children. Reflecting on my background in classical music, I was surprised to find that my own experience was not unlike the transformation countless children experience every day through Little Kids Rock.

When I was sixteen, I discovered the piano and started studying classical music. I found I had a talent, and a means of expression, a way to communicate joy. It was my gift to be able to share that. In two years, I improved my grades, became more independent and expressive, and in a culminating event which included feelings of anticipation, excitement, and ultimately affirmation I was accepted at Carnegie Mellon University and the Manhattan School of Music to study piano performance. I had achieved something remarkable and had established a life-long relationship with music. I owed this outcome to my remarkable piano teacher, Tereza Lee, who gave me four-hour lessons every Sunday in preparation for college auditions. In order to find and continue this life-long journey, I needed Tereza, someone who could guide me and give me access to a whole new world. 

Music, the music that resonates for me or anyone else gives us something “to face the world with.” Music was a tool for me to become more expressive and emotionally vital.

Now consider the fact that Little Kids Rock has served over 300,000 kids, each of whom has their own potent story. Here are a few examples: A boy who is bullied finds self-worth by playing guitar in a talent show; a girl who loses her father at the age of 7 keeps his memory alive through her life-long commitment to music-making; a girl who writes a song in an attempt to heal her mother’s sick coworker finds refuge in songwriting in spite of her inability to save him.

These stories, though painful, are profound and meaningful because the children encountered music and used it as a gateway to expression. 

Interestingly, the first thing I noticed at Little Kids Rock was that every staff member I spoke with described their diverse musical backgrounds and experiences in relation to their respective organizational roles. Each person’s work was essentially an expression of thanks for a musical journey. Dave Wish, Executive Director infuses his passion for life into his work, making it widely accessible and engaging; or Keith Hejna, Communications Officer, who offers tremendous enthusiasm and charisma as a spokesperson. Chuck Speicher, Director of Curriculum, a dynamic teacher, can excite a room with his sense of humor and passion for music. Each person – teachers and staff – has made a contribution, knowing the impact music has had on their own lives. My experience as a volunteer at Little Kids Rock brought into focus the dramatic impact music has had on my life and the power of an organization like Little Kids Rock to give the gift of music to so many others, impacting their lives in ways unimaginable.

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“Who’s your favorite rock star?” a trainer asks a room full of music teachers as an icebreaker to begin Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band workshop.

“John Lennon.”

“Jimi Hendrix.”

“Whitney Houston.”

As teachers shared their favorite songwriters, musicians and singers, Jen Theilacker stood up and proudly declared, “My favorite rock star is my student, Lamiya.”

Lamiya was in sixth grade and one of the first Modern Band students at Philippa Schuyler Middle School after Theilacker attended Little Kids Rock’s teacher training and received all of the musical instruments and resources she needed to start a program at her school.

Lamiya, who is headed to high school next year, embraced this new learning environment wholeheartedly, as it allowed her to get in touch with her creative side and grow as a person, not just a musician. She draws, paints, writes poetry, writes songs, and has even begun using Little Kids Rock’s Jam Cards to learn to play the piano on her own.

“Can you believe Lamiya never touched a guitar before she came and changed our lives three years ago?” Theilacker says.

The remarkable thing is not just how much Theilacker impacted Lamiya’s middle school years, but how this teenager helped develop a young teacher into an incredible mentor, and an ambassador for a national organization that trains other teachers across the country.

“I feel like I have learned as much, if not more from Lamiya, than I have taught her over the past few years, says Theilacker, who used to be a “hardcore Marching Band director.”

“I feel it is my job to reach all students where they fit best in the band world, Concert Band or Modern band,” she says. “It is my job to let them explore for themselves and not just force them to do one or the other. I now realize I would never have reached or truly got to know Lamiya through concert band because that’s not her thing… her love is the guitar, singing, and songwriting.”

“I played violin for about four years, but I became involved with Little Kids Rock and then guitar became more important to me,” Lamiya says. “The bands I listen to write lyrics that simply amaze me, not only because of the beauty of the lyrics, but the fact that there are other people who know what it’s like to feel the same way I do. That’s the kind of impact I want to have on my audience.”

Her original song, Broken Record (about battling depression and insomnia) gives a glimpse into Lamiya’s heart, which she pours out for her audience (see her lyrics and explanation HERE). “A broken record basically repeats a certain part of a song over and over again. In a way, a person who has depression feels like their life is a broken record, because the sadness never leaves, and bad things keep happening.”

“Lamiya is the type of student that every teacher should be blessed to have in their class sometime in their life,” says Theilacker. “I remind all of my students that leaders do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, without being told, and whether or not they want to do it. Lamiya has been a committed leader and that is why she has been my chosen manager for the last three years.”

As “Rock Band Manager,” Lamiya helped Ms. Theilacker with whatever she needed for rehearsals or gigs. For example, she made lists of all equipment needs, tuned guitars, repaired broken strings, packed the gig bags, and always helped her remember last minute details, like what the band should wear for the concert!

“Others have the choice to lead, follow, or get out of the way,” says Theilacker. “Most of her peers choose to follow, which is much easier.”

Lamiya is mature beyond her years, but being so mature at her age isn’t always fun or easy. Other students do not necessarily understand or get it, but they respect her for it. It wasn’t easy at first for Lamiya to understand why her peers didn’t understand or have her same passion or work ethic at rehearsals. However, Lamiya always puts the group first and not herself. She doesn’t need to be the lead vocals on every song. In fact, she usually chooses not to be, because for her, it is about the music, not herself.

“I think that music will forever be part of my life,” she says. “It won’t be my main focus, because my biggest goal in life is to be a doctor. However, I’d love to continue helping people with my songs in the future.”

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 Transformed by a Musical Experience

The House of Blues Hollywood was packed with Pantera fans who had gathered to pay tribute to their recently gunned down guitar God, Darrell Abbott. High school student Areli Morales stood backstage preparing to sing before the largest crowd she had ever seen. MTV had cameras rolling and the audience was loud, as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

“As I stood there in front of the sea of metal music lovers, I feared that I might somehow forget my lines and dishonor Darrell and my band,” Areli said, remembering her experience on that transformative night. “But I took a deep breath, focused on the moment and a rush of energy filled me. I made the best of that moment.”

Areli discovered her love for performing and found her self-confidence in her high school Modern Band class. The class was led by Scott Burstein, a teacher who took Little Kids Rock’s free training and received a donation of instruments and curricular resources that would give Areli the tools she needed to share her soulful music with the world.

“I don’t believe I will encounter a moment more nerve-racking than taking the stage at the House of Blues,” she said. “[Little Kids Rock] improved my self-confidence and helped me overcome stage fright.”

With the support of her teachers and classmates, Areli brought the “House [of Blues]” down! The whole concert was featured on MTV, which was an extra bonus for the budding rock star and her music classmates.

“She had great stage presence and confidence,” Burstein said of her performance.

Areli is now a recent college graduate with a degree in Recreation and Tourism Management and a minor in French, and enjoys playing shows for huge audiences. She takes any opportunity to sing and perform.

“I love the energy of commanding a stage fueled by the power of music,” said Areli, who also pens her own songs. “I am moved to write while traveling because it gives me a second to reflect and disconnect. I find that every experience can be transformed into music.”

However, it was a musical experience at the House of Blues that transformed Areli.

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Project Leader

Sandi Zellner

Verona, New Jersey United States

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