Give Back

IN A SILENT WAY… "Taking music in school isn't to make everybody into a musician," says trumpeter Carvell Holloway, head of music at Compton's giant Davis Middle School. "It's so that you understand more about yourself culturally, more about your own creativity, more about everything around you. If you only deem certain kids worthy of that information, then there's a big problem in society."

The size of that problem--the elimination of school music programs in the U.S.--was dramatized last year when Frank Bruno, a piano teacher in Salinas, California, was sentenced to give 300 hours of free piano lessons to needy kids after he was convicted of hit-and-run driving.

There are a lot of musicians who don't need a judge to make them help out. Benefits for music education programs in just the past year have featured, among countless others, Queen Latifah, Bruce Springsteen, James Hetfield, Macy Gray, Eddie Vedder, Ozomotli, Marilyn Manson, Charlie Haden, Jackson Browne, Collective Soul, Ray Davies, and Take 6. The Game and 50 Cent have each given $100,000 to Compton's music programs. East Bay rapper E-40 gave $12,000 to the drumline at his high school.

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has founded the Silver Lake Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles to provide free/cheap music instruction. Phish's Trey Anastasio has formed the Seven Below Arts Initiative in Vermont and Paul McCartney has launched the Music Lives Foundation. VH1 and Guitar Center also raise money for music education.

Musicians know up close and personal why they help out. "I'm the son of a custodian and a maid," says Boyd Tinsley, violinist for the Dave Matthews Band who gives $75,000 a year to Virginia schools. "I'm very thankful for everything that was given to me. I just feel I need to give back."

"I want people to know that it's cool to be in the band because there is a shortage of musicians nowadays," adds E-40. "Music stimulates the mind, and it's therapeutic and healing. People need to realize the importance of music programs in public schools-I played in the band growing up, Too Short played, Dallas Austin did too."

This is the American way--you see a problem and rush in and try to solve it. The volunteerism that is a defining characteristic of our national character is truly a beautiful thing. There's only one problem-it doesn't work.

The annual School Music Matters survey of music teachers tells the story. Music funding was cut, from already criminally low levels, by 30% in 2005, 23% in both 2006 and 2007. Public funds now only pay for 57.6% of music education expenses. Where does the rest come from? 82.4% of music teachers now go into their own pockets to help fund their own programs.

The situation is made much worse by No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law which mandates that schools raise test scores in so-called "core" subjects (i.e. not music and art). This has forced school administrators to further gut music programs. More and more, our children's school experience resembles an endless bar exam, creativity be damned.

We need billions of dollars, which is far beyond the generosity of all musicians, to solve the problem. But the money is already there, it's just spent on the wrong things. There's no way to fund music education except at the expense of our prison industrial complex because, in a majority of states, prison spending now exceeds spending on education. Our schools will continue to go silent until the money poured into the Iraq war (and the funding for U.S. military bases in 129 other countries) is returned to the communities it came from.

This requires more than volunteerism. It requires a massive political movement, such as the immigration marches which rocked America in 2006. Who will lead such a movement? Not the Democrats. When No Child Left Behind was passed, only six Democrats in the Senate and ten in the House voted against it. Senator Edward Kennedy stood by George Bush's side when the President signed the bill, hailing it as a "legislative tour de force." A movement for music education will have to be led by people who love music, and the Democrats only interest in music is to censor it.

On the other hand, what would happen if all the artists who are playing benefits for music education also helped to mobilize their collectively massive fan base to demand that we make music, not war? Old school, new school, all colors, all genres, all ages. A guitar army with a hip-hop beat. Would you volunteer to join it? - Rock & Rap Confidential

Note: Rock & Rap Confidential, one of the few newsletters both editors of CounterPunch read from front to back the moment it arrives, is edited by Lee Ballinger and Dave Marsh and now it's available to you for FREE simply by sending an email to: [email protected].

Other Rock & Rap Confidential articles:
Watching The Detectives
How I Became A Music Pirate
Do The James Brown!

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July 6, 2007