My Huffington readers may recall that I am a fierce advocate of musical education for kids... from the womb forward. (Yes, I believe that pregnant women should expose their unborn children to all kinds of music, from classical to rock, and especially jazz... since I know from my research that there is a definite magic which permeates the expectant person and somehow conditions the embryo.) Certainly a young child should be inundated with music from birth, and by two or three years old they should have developed an acute musical awareness which will remain with them forever.
Some years ago I became acquainted with the Harmony Project, which targets mostly minority youths with the greatest needs and fewest resources to stay in school by using music education and performing as the lure. Starting with kids in the second or third grade, they support them with music scholarships, after school band and youth orchestra opportunities and mentoring through high school and now into college. In learning to play and perform music, the at-risk students Harmony Project targets develop discipline, persistence, confidence and the ability to work well with others -- the same habits of mind they need for success in school and in life...
Last year, when covering a Bouchon Bistro party I helped arrange, I wrote about the event where Dr. Margaret Martin, the founder of Harmony Project, was awarded the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal FOR REPLACING VIOLENCE WITH MUSIC in Los Angeles' high crime zones! President Obama presented her with the medal in a White House ceremony, one of the highest civilan honors the government can bestow.
On Sunday, I attended a wonderful event where the Henry Mancini Family was honored with the Harmony Project 2012 Banchik Humanitarian Award for their dedication to this fabulous organization and its activities. In the late '70s, the late, great Henry Mancini composed and conducted the music for a film I produced, W.C. Fields & Me, and I have been fortunate enough to be a family friend ever since. So I have seen close-up some of the many, many generous activities which Ginny Mancini and her three children, Chris Sr., Felice, and Monica, have contributed to the musical well-being of the world in which we live. Untold charities, contributions, and actual hands-on efforts. Felice has been executive director of the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation since 1998, which donates musical instruments to underfunded music programs. (All of them are underfunded!) Ginny worked with the Henry Mancini Institute, which, for many years, has done herculean work in helping those in need. Monica and her husband, Gregg Field, have performed at innumerable charitable concerts, and Chris has quietly helped manage the portfolio of his father's work and has done his own professional work within the music world.
So I was glad to be brought up to date on the activities of the Harmony Project, which invests in children and communities through music. Starting with 36 students in 2001, there are now over 1,500 youths in the three state (including Los Angeles) program, with a waiting list of more than 400. All have to remain enrolled in school, while participating with their musical mentors, devoting five or more hours a week in after-school musical practice.
"We build youth orchestras and music ensembles in high crime neighborhoods where our students live," said Dr. Martin. "With 16 full-time youth orchestras in 17 L.A. sites, we commit to our students year-round, tuition-free (based on family income), from early elementary school through high school graduation. And now we have an active college scholarship program." She went on to tell me something astonishing: Since 2008, 100 percent of Harmony Project high school graduates have gone on to college, with most being the first in their families to attend college. She added that Harmony Project also provides ongoing parent education, social support and referrals to social services.
Considering that one third of U.S. youths fail to complete high school on time, this is astonishing in itself, since drop-out rates in the 50 largest cities have reached 50 percent. She concluded with a mind-blowing statistic "Cutting Los Angeles drop-out rates in half would save $1 billion a year and result in 3,659 fewer murders and aggravated assaults a year." Which explains why the Harmony Project is worthy of your support and financial backing (www.harmony-project.org). As Ginny Mancini told me:"Primary intervention prevents costly social problems from getting started in the first place." Yes!
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