There are few activities more fun than making music. Whether you play Mozart or AC/DC, it doesn't matter. It's all the same music and it's all the same fun. Don't look to public school systems to provide that for kids today, especially in economically challenged neighborhoods. It simply doesn't happen.
Most people listen to music pretty much all the time these days. Kids are especially passionate about their musical interests. They listen to it every day. They talk about it. They identify with genres and styles. It is the same powerful experience of self-expression for them as it is for any era or generation.
So, given a real empty spot in music education, I invented a solution. It's light-weight, economical and effective. It's called Sound Art.
I started Sound Art 10 years ago because I see an opportunity to engage and enliven young people in developing all kinds of skills, working in artistic and intellectual collaboration, experiencing problem solving and improvisational thinking -- all of which enlighten and magnify learning for any person throughout life.
Sound Art teaches music in the inner city areas of greater Los Angeles where there are no opportunities for arts education. When I say no opportunity, I mean neighborhoods with absolutely no access. Either the community is too far away from the few private music schools around or parents don't have the time or the resources to take kids to lessons.
Sound Art is mobile because musicians don't care where they play. What matters is that they do play -- a lot. Sound Art, a team of musicians, is a moveable music program that travels anywhere. We go to the neighborhoods, set up in a room, a park, a classroom, an auditorium, whatever -- and teach popular music. It's a system that is in line with our times. We aren't a "conservatory" where some can come and some can't. We are a street team that brings what we've learned and experienced about playing music to any child who wants it.
Sound Art teaches the mechanics of making music from the ground up. We begin with popular music because that's what is already embedded in the ears and the hearts of our students.
It is not a stretch to teach Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" because the entire world has heard it and can sing it. It is, however, a revelation to be able to play it. It's thrilling. It's empowering. It is a victory. It's even more exciting to be able to play all the parts -- move through the band playing each instrument. After a few semesters of that with every song we teach, our students can actually play like real musicians.
Last year I witnessed a Sound Art performance at Le Conte Middle School in Los Angeles. About 3,000 kids had just survived 10 consecutive days of standardized testing. When the Sound Art band played "Rolling in the Deep" the entire student body rose to its feet singing, "We could have had it all!"
The demand for Sound Art classes is impressive. They show up in big numbers. We had a recruitment show at a high school in Hollywood. We were hoping to find 15 kids who wanted to join our class. 1,000 kids signed up.
At a community center in South Los Angeles, I was working with two young men. We were writing beats and they were learning music production. As we worked on a tune they told me that they knew each other from the neighborhood and that they were enemies. In their world, that meant that they were capable of killing each other. But, in the context of music, they'd discovered that each had an ability the other lacked. The one on my left was writing the drum parts and the one on my right had a knack for bass lines. There was no way they were going to hurt each other from this day forward.
We hear from parents -- that they've seen incredible changes in their sons and daughters since starting to play an instrument. We hear from students -- they want to pursue music so they stay in school. We have a class in Boyle Heights that just made a real professional recording -- "In This Together" by the Breed Street Rookies.
What generation isn't passionate about the music that defines its identity? Didn't we have that band, that sound, that marked us forever? Well, our students are creating those markers right now and this fact provides Sound Art with all we need to explore how to create music with students who are passionate about the subject. What could be better?
Oh, and there's more. With Sound Art classes, attendance goes up, grades go up. Commitment to learning gets stronger, better, faster. College looks like a good idea. Learning marketable skills is a viable option. Self-discipline gets developed and rewarded. Teamwork and collaboration replace isolation and boredom at home watching TV or worse.
So, taking this one step further, imagine a small light-weight moveable feast of musicians in the inner cities of America making this possible for thousands of kids who have no access to something as fun as learning about music. Imagine the most challenged communities getting a simple music class once a week. Imagine linking those communities with each other across the nation via the magic of a great little website! Imagine Sound Art.