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Initiative shows arts commitment in New York's public schools
Announcing the ArtsCount initiative, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently revealed the city's plans to require all schools to maintain arts education programs with accountability components. ArtsCount compels principals to run arts programs effectively, and grammar school and high school music, art, theater and dance programs must demonstrate that students make progress in the arts. For the current school year, $250 million of the education budget is supporting arts education and the hiring of 141 new teachers. The new strategies build upon 2004-2005's Blueprint For The Arts, which generated common benchmarks and curriculum goals for each of the arts. Clearly establishing the significance of arts instruction to a complete education, ArtsCount includes parent/student/teacher surveys, quality and compliance reviews, and the annual arts in schools report.
The nonprofit Music for Youth Foundation (MFY) of UJA-Federation of New York is funding innovative programs to make quality music education available to underprivileged young people. Earlier this year, a Bruce Springsteen tribute concert at Carnegie Hall raised $150,000 for MFY, with added donations resulting in $350,000 for 14 music education programs. Among those receiving $25,000 grants are the New York Pops' Salute to Music, giving free Saturday music lessons to junior-high school students, and the Harlem School of the Arts, helping music students obtain higher education. On Oct. 10, Carnegie Hall again hosts an MFY benefit concert. The Music Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin event will showcase several artists, each performing one Elton John song. Among them are Joss Stone, Brendan James, Shawn Colvin and Phoebe Snow.
Over the past summer, the Brooklyn Philharmonic's free concert season presented a series of outdoor performances throughout New York City, significantly expanding its scope from only one concert per season. The recent season kicked off as part of the Target Children's Day & Fireworks, featuring a day of free kid-friendly musical activities, such as sing-alongs and John Lithgow's The Sunny Side Of The Street Children's Concert. Afterward, the Brooklyn Philharmonic played a sunset concert, then performed again to musically synched fireworks.
In Los Angeles, the Music Center's Active Arts Programs are providing free interactive all-ages events that include music-making, drumming, singing and dancing. Through December 2007, the performing arts venue offers nontraditional, multicultural opportunities to celebrate the city's diversity. Active Arts volunteers, known as Activators, participate in and initiate the events, and serve as ambassadors who promote the Active Arts Programs at the grassroots level. This year's events include Dance Downtown, with free beginner dance lessons, live music and an outdoor dance floor; Drum Downtown, a public drum circle with drums and other percussion instruments provided; Get Your Chops Back, giving "lapsed" musicians music-making workshops and coached performing; and Friday Night Sing-Alongs. In October, A Taste of Dance-A-Thon will celebrate the dance heritage of L.A.'s many cultures, and November and December Active Arts Programs include Jingle Bell Sing, sing-alongs in various downtown Los Angeles locations.
The Putumayo Kids label recently sponsored a concert tour to celebrate its Animal Playground CD release of international, multilingual animal-themed songs. The tour visited more than 25 U.S. zoos, museums and children's retailers, with nearly all shows free to kids and families. Asheba, a Trinidad-born musician and one of Animal Playground's recording artists, headlined the tour. Called the "Pied Piper of Trinidad," Asheba educates his audiences with a multicultural approach of calypso, reggae and a crossbreed of musical genres. Putumayo Kids also has two new CDs, Brazilian Playground, featuring Brazil's most accessible musical styles, and the Celtic Dreamland collection of soothing bedtime songs, many in Gaelic.
Several new CDs for children span a variety of musical genres. Prokofiev's classic introduces children to orchestral instruments in Magic Maestro Music's Peter And The Wolf, with performances by the London Philharmonic and program book of activities. Dream Big! from Roger Day integrates Motown horns, African drums, a string quartet and sump-pump hose into his kid-empowering selections, and the Hipwaders' imaginative Educated Kid encourages literacy with its "Dewey Decimal System" song. With original sing-alongs in American roots- and folk-influenced style, Joe McDermott's Everybody Plays Air Guitar includes step-by-step printed instructions on air-guitar playing. Partnering with sidekick BB, Buck Howdy brings big-band sounds and Western swing-style tunes to Chickens, and Robbi K's soulful album of worldwide musical styles, Music Makes Me Happy, offers diverse tracks of "post-Barney and pre-Britney" music for 7-to-12-year-olds. Blending music from jazz to various cultural traditions, Medeski, Martin and Wood's Let's Go Everywhere also incorporates children's voices. From multiple artists, including GRAMMY winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, comes timeless material on NAPPA Presents: Classic Animal Songs. More animal-themed music pervades Every Child Deserves A Lifetime: Songs From The For Our Children Series, featuring Sting, Faith Hill, Brian Wilson and more. Various artists also contribute vocals to the whimsical Down At The Sea Hotel, available in book/CD or audio-only format.
(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for GRAMMY.com and is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy and music-and-the-brain research.)