At a time when music education programs continue to be eliminated across the United States public school system, over 500 public school music teachers, higher education leaders, and public-school district art supervisors from across America gathered at Colorado State University for the sixth annual four-day intensive Modern Band Summit.
The Modern Band Summit is a music conference presented by Little Kids Rock – a national nonprofit organization that helps train teachers to train students at any age with any to no musical background how to learn, play, produce and enjoy popular music.
The Modern Band Summit was generously underwritten by Bohemian Foundation, which has partnered with Little Kids Rock since 2012 to Bring Modern Band music programming to the Poudre school district in Fort Collins, where more than 6,000 students in 30 schools currently participate.
One teacher who currently directs some of these schools in Northern Colorado is Mary Claxton, Little Kids Rock Colorado director of programs.
“A big part of my job is to train teachers who are interested in the program who don’t already have a music program in their school and they really want that opportunity for their kids. Then we might send a teacher to our training who can learn how to do an after-school club. If a teacher doesn’t know how to teach songwriting, but they really want to teach it because the kids are asking for that program, I will send them some research, and sometimes I’ll actually go to the classroom and facilitate a lesson,” Mary Claxton said.
In 1996, after he saw a desperate need for a music education program at an inner-city school he was teaching at in southern California, David Wish began offering an after-school guitar class to interested students, and as the class became more popular and more kids enrolled, he decided to seek funding to be able to bring the program to schools across the U.S. Six years later in 2002, with support from music legends Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker, Little Kids Rock was born.
Not only does Little Kids Rock provide teachers with the training they need to influence and teach their students through Modern Band class about music, they also equip students with free instruments and curriculums.
Countless studies show that kids who have access to music education in schools do better academically and socially.
“I tend to be very introverted,” Polaris Expeditionary Learning School graduate and recording artist singer-songwriter Mariana Henke said.
“But when I started playing music, especially in a band, I had more confidence in myself and also in the ability to work with other people. I realized through that, people aren’t necessarily looking at you and picking apart every detail. Everyone makes mistakes when you’re learning – and people just want to see you succeed doing what you love.”
The influence Little Kids Rock has on children doesn’t just stop with giving them more confidence in the classroom.
“The darker side of this program with the songwriting is hearing kids write about suicide and parents dying, and stuff like that. It’s hard to hear them write songs about that, but they do. It’s an outlet for them. Kids need to express whatever the feeling is, even if it’s something that difficult,” Little Kids Rock music teacher Jasmine Faulkner said.
“Music is all about connecting with people,” Henke adds.
Even though the goal of the Little Kids Rock program isn’t to create professional musicians or students who go on to study music in higher education, it does happen sometimes.
“Every once in a while, you’ll see someone like Mariana come through music class and think, ‘yes, they are probably going to do this professionally’ but I tell my students a lot that I am not here to create professional musicians. My mark of success for you [students] is to love music and to be able to have an instrument, and if you have kids someday, that you can sing to them, play instruments with them . . . if you’re at a campfire, you can join along. Modern band class is for everyone, not just for the kids who want to be professionals,” Faulkner continued.
According to Claxton, In Northern Colorado, there’s a great need for songwriting resources because more and more young people want to learn how to write.
“Mariana is an awesome example of student who had kind of been writing her own stuff, and then went through some workshops and now she’s performing original tracks and going to school for music,” Claxton explained.
The Little Kids Rock program has been so successful that Grammy award-winning international recording artist Isaiah Sharkey, former Yankee and guitarist Bernie Williams, and Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza made an appearance at the Summit and have endorsed the program all over the U.S.
Sharkey, who has played for legends like John Mayer, Coldplay, Keith Urban, Jennifer Hudson, and many more, said he’s seen first hand what music can do to inspire people. “I’m thrilled to be a part of this national movement bringing inclusive and culturally diverse music education training to teachers and schools in Colorado and across the country. Every kid should be able to feel like a rock star in school, so they can be a rock star in life.”
For more info on how to get involved with or donate to Little Kids Rock, please visit www.littlekidsrock.org.