EducationWatch: Arts Advocacy Day 2009

Artists travel to Washington, D.C., in support of music education
Laurel Fishman

The 22nd annual Arts Advocacy Day took place March 31 in Washington, D.C., to promote music-related policies and funding for the arts. The event was sponsored by Americans for the Arts with the Congressional Arts Caucus and 83 arts organizations including The Recording Academy, and featured GRAMMY-winning artists Wynton Marsalis and Linda Ronstadt and 51st GRAMMY nominee Josh Groban contributing their views on the importance of music education. Eloquent and well-prepared, Ronstadt talked about growing up on a cattle ranch in the Tucson, Ariz., desert and recounted how she listened to music on old 78 rpm records on her grandmother's antique Victrola and joined sing-alongs accompanied by family members on guitar. Ronstadt said music provided "an enormous yardstick to measure my experiences against generations of other people. It placed me in a much larger cultural context, and helped me to locate my humanity." She also maintained, "No school curriculum would be complete without the works of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, Henry James, Edith Wharton, or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why then would it be complete without a working knowledge of Mozart, Beethoven or George Gershwin?... Music cannot be learned without both listening and playing. We need to teach our children to sing their own songs and play their own instruments, not just listen to their iPods." At the end of her impassioned presentation, Ronstadt concluded, "Access to quality music education should not be only for those who can afford it. The benefits are too great," adding, "Participation in music and the arts can help people reclaim and achieve the American Dream."

In related news, Ronstadt recently has been making appearances at U.S. elementary schools in northern California and in Arizona, visiting small classrooms of first- and second-graders and encouraging them to interact musically. During her visits, Ronstadt performs songs about, as she describes it, "building the railroad, exploring unknown territory and the loneliness of being a stranger in a new land," and afterward discusses the stories in the songs with the students.

Boston's Berklee College of Music hosted the annual Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association conference March 27-28, providing an academic forum for discussion among industry practitioners, professors, and students of the global music and entertainment industries. This year's installment featured a series of workshops focusing on topics such as budgeting a school music business program, digital production, and developing online curricula and clinics for students. Other sessions addressed monetizing music for film and video games, the use of technology in guerilla marketing and distribution, new business models for touring, and brand-building through social media. The keynote address was given by Danny Goldberg, president of Global Village Entertainment, and workshop participants included Dan Carlin, chair of film scoring at Berklee and former Recording Academy Chair; Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin; and Steve Schnur, worldwide executive of music and marketing for Electronic Arts and GRAMMY Foundation Chair Emeritus, among others. In representing music professionals, educators, and students from more than 110 international colleges and universities, MEIEA's primary goal is to facilitate an exchange of information between educators and practitioners in order to prepare students for careers in the music and entertainment industries. MEIEA is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2009.

"Music! Just Imagine…" was the theme of March's annual Music In Our Schools Month. Across the nation, K-6 children wrote essays on the theme, which challenged them to express how they were inspired by music. Essays were judged by panelists from MENC: The National Association for Music Education, and a selection of the finalists' essays were featured in the 2009 World's Largest Concert, an MIOSM sing-along concert event linking students around the world through music. The "Music! Just Imagine…" theme was generated by MENC President Barbara Geer, who said, "Imagination is often regarded as the deeply creative faculty which perceives the basic resemblances between ideas. Music also opens countless doors for creativity, and the possibilities for using that creativity are endless." Haley Black, one of the WLC essay contest finalists and a fourth-grader at Weedsport Elementary School in Weedsport, N.Y., wrote: "I think America would be filled with more hope and joy if every student could experience music. Music bonds people together so if everyone in school could attend music classes, children would be united." This year's MIOSM also featured a poster contest open to students nationwide designed around the same theme. Examples of contest-winning entries from the Galena Park Independent School District of Texas can be viewed here.

The Petition for Equal Access to Music Education is progressing toward the goal of attaining 1 million signatures to present to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in connection with the Rally for Music Education on June 18 in Washington, D.C. The print petition's original deadline of April 3 has now been extended to May 15, and online petition signatures are being accepted until June 18. Petitions are available here and here and can be distributed among family, friends and community members.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy, and music-and-the-brain research.)

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