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Why Teaching Music Matters - The Harmony Project Los Angeles

NPR's Cory Turner writes:

I went to Los Angeles to report a story on brain science. A new study had just been released, exploring how music instruction helps kids process language. The children the researchers studied were all participants in a community music program run by the nonprofit Harmony Project.

But after an hour talking with passionate staffers at the group's office in Hollywood — and then recording an hour of music lessons there — I knew I had a compelling second story, that of Harmony Project and the woman who created it.

“You teach music because the lessons that you learn serve you in your life and make you live a better, more functional life the same way the lessons you learn in math help you live a better, more functional life."

The group provides instruments (trombones, trumpets, oboes, flutes, strings, drums, you name it) and free lessons to kids in many of LA's toughest neighborhoods. It also sends teachers into the schools for onsite after-school lessons twice a week. Throw in a rehearsal each Saturday, and you have a program that gives much and asks much in return — which is one reason its students keep signing up.

And then there's Margaret Martin, who founded Harmony Project in 2001 after a tumultuous early life. At 17, she gave birth to her first child; she later spent a year homeless on the streets of Los Angeles while parenting two kids. A survivor of domestic violence, Martin eventually earned a doctorate in public health from UCLA.

Here are selected excerpts from our conversation, on the beginnings of Harmony Project and why it matters.

Why did you found Harmony Project?

I was inspired. A group of hardcore Los Angeles gang members walked through a farmers market on a Sunday morning: teardrop tattoos, oversized clothing, attitude. They stopped to listen to a little kid playing Brahms on a tiny violin. After five or six minutes without saying a word to one another, I watched those gang members pull out their own money and lay it gently in the child's case. [Turns out that "little kid" was Martin's son Max.]

Amir Pinkney-Jengkens, 8, is learning trombone through Harmony Project, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments and instruction to children in low-income communities. Recent research suggests that such musical education may help improve kids' ability to process speech.  I was at UCLA at the time finishing a doctorate in public health focused on what it takes to make a healthy community, and those gang members taught me that they would rather be doing what that child was doing than what they were doing. But they never had the chance. So I dove into the research literature and discovered that music learning was linked to improvements in language, cognition, music, brain development and behavior.

How would you describe the neighborhoods where Harmony Project is working?

They are the highest crime neighborhoods in Los Angeles. [The city] designate[s] gang-reduction zones for rates of violent gang crime that are at least 400 percent greater than anywhere else in the city. Something you don't always hear about: These are also the neighborhoods with the highest fertility rates, so they have also got the highest number of little kids and really nothing much for the kids to do after school hours. ...

With public schools across the country cutting music instruction to save money, the Harmony Project in Los Angeles is trying to make up the difference.

So I founded Harmony Project to help keep disadvantaged kids safe, in school and out of trouble. It was basically a public health approach. If they were in music classes or rehearsals or practicing their instruments at home, it would reduce their exposure to negative influences in their environment and it would increase their exposure to the positive influences of music teachers and conductors.

One thing we know for sure, and that is that if we want to get serious about closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged kids, we should provide five days a week of music instruction in every Title 1 inner-city school in the country, from K through grade five. If you do that, you could save a whole lot of money on remediation, and you'd save a whole lot more money on juvenile incarceration because ... we don't have behavior problems with our students. They learn how to work together from an early age, and those are lessons that they never lose.

And yet you and I both know that music programs are the first thing on the chopping block in district after district these days.

It's been going on for decades like that. You know, we talk about, "Oh, music programs are getting chopped," but it's been a death by a thousand cuts, because you used to have five-day-a-week programs. Kids could really thrive that way. And then you said, "Well, you know, why don't we just give them one lesson a week?" So then you had the music specialist go around to three or four schools.

When my son was in public elementary school there was a music teacher trying to teach six instruments to 40 kids one hour a week. And kids think that they couldn't learn; what they don't realize is that they were in a program where nobody could learn. It was sort of designed to fail, so it's just not fair.

“We need these things. We need to learn how to be precise, how to listen carefully, how to collaborate closely, how to express ourselves whether we're in the depths of despair or whether we feel joyful.

I was speaking to one curriculum specialist at a school district. She said, "Oh, all of our kids get music. The second-graders get music for eight weeks. The third-graders get music for eight weeks. The fourth-graders get music for eight weeks. The fifth-graders and so forth."

I mean, that would be like saying, "Oh, everyone gets math. The second-graders get math for eight weeks. The third-graders get math for eight weeks. The fourth-graders get math for eight weeks." And, like math, you don't teach music in order to make musicians, and you don't teach math in order to make mathematicians.

You teach music because the lessons that you learn serve you in your life and make you live a better, more functional life the same way the lessons you learn in math help you live a better, more functional life.

I mean, we need these things. We need to learn how to be precise, how to listen carefully, how to collaborate closely, how to express ourselves whether we're in the depths of despair or whether we feel joyful. ...

It's ... music, it's an authentic good. So, for all of those policy wonks out there who think music is just some enrichment tool, I'm sorry. Music is now permanently off the shelf with the warm fuzzies, and it's on the shelf with the rigorous, scientifically proven, evidence-based interventions that close the achievement gap for poor kids.

What do you see among the kids who either seek you out or that Harmony Project finds: Are these overachievers, or are they truly a cross-section of every neighborhood in which you work?

Let me tell you this. So, a dad walks up to me after a recital. And he says, "I didn't know what to do. I was losing my son. He was going with the wrong crowd. And then Harmony Project showed up. For the last three years he's been playing with a Harmony Project orchestra. He's a smiling, responsible kid." Tears filled that dad's eyes, and he said, "Thank you for my son."

Over and over, I'll have a student say, "You know, Harmony Project has really helped me. I have friends that are into a lot of bad stuff, and they say, 'Come with us.' And I say, 'I have to go to rehearsal.' " And then they say, "So it really helps me."

It gives them something else to do, something else that they're about. Something that's about achievement. They set different goals. They actually say, "I'm thinking about possibilities I never would have imagined."

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The Middle Class Coming Together to Stop Music Education Cuts...

Has music education been saved?

.. a government climb-down over proposed cuts to music education funding in schools

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The government has backed down over its proposed cuts to music education funding Photo: Christopher Jones
Well, they did it. The combined fury of 134 music organisations, led by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), has saved music education from the full force of the cuts being imposed by a cash-starved government.

The ISM’s petition, mounted in response to the Education Department’s Consultation Document, has won two specific concessions. An extra £17 million has been found for the national network of 123 music hubs,which provide the kind of vital music education services that schools cannot do on their own – providing instruments, setting up ensembles and orchestras and so forth. And the government has backed down from its recommendation that local authorities stop funding music education.

This is undoubtedly good news. That extra £17 million (the government says £18 million, but no-one quite understands their arithmetic), means the total amount spread around the music hubs will rise to £75 million. This will reverse the decline of recent years, which has been steep. In 2012-15, the grant stood at roughly the same amount, around £75 million, but this declined in 2013-14 to £63 million, and in 2014-15 to £58 million, a fall of nearly 23 per cent.

This is a great result. The effect of the climb-down over local authority music funding is less easy to gauge, because authorities have complete discretion over where the cuts to their education budgets will fall. Those cuts are certainly severe. The damage music might have endured next year can be gauged by looking at the cut announced yesterday to the Education Services Grant paid to local authorities. In 2013/14, the ESG stood at £116 per pupil. In 2015/16, this will shrink by a quarter to a mere £87 per pupil. Music will surely suffer from this, to a degree, as will all the other things the ESG funds, from geography field trips to school repairs. But at least the invitation to make music the easy sacrificial lamb has been retracted.

So, the ISM’s campaign succeeded in two of its stated goals. The only failure was to wring from the government the same commitment to long-term stability of funding that David Cameron recently announced for sport. No doubt the ISM will make that the focus of its next campaign.

Here, for once, the well-off were roused for a campaign organised on behalf of the disadvantaged, specifically those parents who can’t afford music lessons and instruments for their children. It offers the heart-warming spectacle of a battle fought and won for a moral principle. People are inclined to mock when you suggest music can bring out the benevolence in human nature, but this campaign has shown it might just be true.  from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10986437/Has-music-education-been-saved.html

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What Rockers Can Teach Us About Success...

What Rockers Can Teach Entrepreneurs

Embarking on a career in popular music is in many ways like starting a business. You develop a brand, a distinct identity in the marketplace, and try to get people excited about it. What can entrepreneurs learn from musicians about getting a new business off the ground?

The 10-Year Journey to Overnight Success

Any musician you’ve ever heard of has worked countless hours to master his or her instrument and has endured humiliation after humiliation in the form of small and apathetic audiences, discouraging label executives, and dismissive incumbents. It takes hard work, commitment and determination to succeed as a musician.

The same goes for people who want to start a business. Entrepreneurs can get impatient when all they hear about are overnight successes and young self-made billionaires. Overnight success stories make for good headlines. But they are misleading.

In both music and entrepreneurship you need to commit fully and decisively, and then stick it out through the long haul. You have to be willing to make personal sacrifices, and you have to be persistent in your pursuit of excellence.

When I interviewed super-producer Rick Rubin for an article about meditation, I asked him why so many musicians meditate. He told me meditation is good for musicians because it reinforces the lifestyle of consistent practice and discipline. People tend to focus on the inspiration aspects of the arts (and the inspiration aspect of entrepreneurship). What we don’t see is the tedious disciplined practice involved in translating that inspiration into a success in the marketplace.

Persistence means overcoming the deeply personal pain of failures. We all know that you need to fail to learn. But what rockers can teach entrepreneurs is that failing is like mourning the death of a loved one. Your business, like your art, is your baby. You are personally attached to it. You love it. It is part of who you are and its success is tied into your feelings of self-worth. How must Robin Thicke feel around now that his deeply personal album about his failed relationship with his wife sold only 530 copies in the UK in its first week? That’s how entrepreneurs feel every time they fail.

Musicians have been told their entire career that their babies are ugly, stupid, and boring. Jimi Hendrix was kicked out of every band he played in until he started his own. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It just means that it’s part of the deal.

The same goes in business. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz was passionate about his vision of bringing Italian coffee bar culture to the US. He approached 242 investors. 217 said, “No.” That’s 217 times that his baby was insulted. Then he couldn’t show a profit for three years. That’s rock star persistence.

Creative Adaptability

Charles Darwin said that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who can best manage change.

Rockers are masters of change, flexibility, and adaptability. Madonna, one of the only women in popular music to have a consistently successful career into her fifties, has done it by constantly changing and adapting. She didn’t lose her brand of empowered sexuality, but she changed with the times. In fact, she sometimes changed ahead of the times. Now making her thirteenth album, she’s getting today’s hottest producers to give her their most exciting tracks.

When U2 transitioned from their signature sound, epitomized on The Joshua Tree, to the dark electronic sound of Achtung Baby, they proved that they were agile. Likewise, Radiohead transitioned away from guitar-based songs after their hit album OK Computer to a more electronic sound for its follow-up, Kid A. It wasn’t easy to make the changes, but it paid off. Achtung Baby was a commercial smash for U2, selling 18 million copies, while Radiohead’s Kid A topped the Billboard chart, won the Grammy award for best alternative album, and went platinum.

Any team should be wary of abandoning its core strength to superficially adopt a trend. But that wasn’t the case with U2 and Radiohead. What they were doing was growing together. They were able to interrupt their habits of thought and their habits of action. They were innovating.

It’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survives but the one that is most adaptable to change. Startups need to keep changing if they are going to hold their customers’ interest, adapt to changing market, and outperform competitors.

Everyone is a Rapper

In both music and entrepreneurship you need powers of persuasion. You need to get people excited about what you’re doing so that they can give you money to keep doing it. You need to rap.

The original meaning of the word rap was talking. But it was more than that. It was your ability to talk smoothly, to talk yourself out of trouble, to use talking to get your way. It was a smart way of talking, a way of talking that impressed other people. Rapping was selling. That’s why rappers are such good entrepreneurs.

When rap started, there was no institutional support for the genre. So rappers learned salesmanship. Rap culture was about proving you were better than the rest. It was about distinguishing yourself and your originality above the crowd.

Startups need to do that. Just like rappers, they need to convince people that they are better and bolder than the rest. That they can rise to any challenge and circumstances. Entrepreneurs can learn from rappers that stepping up to the mic with confidence can go a long way.

Entrepreneurs can also learn from rockers to make an emotional connection to their audience through body language and stories. As I’ve written before, you can learn techniques that will strengthen the effectiveness of your communication.

But most importantly, rockers teach entrepreneurs the importance of finding your unique voice and expressing it. As an artist, you have to differentiate yourself from others. Doing well in business requires the same thing. To stand out, you need to put yourself on the line and express yourself with confidence and passion.

Nurture the Team

A startup company I once interviewed faced a situation where one partner wanted the company to always be small enough to all fit in an elevator. But the other partner wanted world domination. One wanted to be Zuckerburg, the other wanted to be Zingerman’s. It collapsed. Another company had a partner who didn’t feel like he got a fare share of the equity split. So he split, right as they were about to be approved for a grant on which he was the primary investigator. The grant fell through.

Partners are a major source of uncertainty. They are also the most important factor for your startup’s success. What can we learn from rockers about minimizing partner risk? Invest in the connection with your partners.

In 1995 Anthony Kiedis, singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was in rehab for heroin addiction. He was the singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, with a new album coming out and a tour to embark on. His band mates needed Kiedis to do his job.

Part of the rehab center’s recovery process was to invite friends and family for a group session. Flea, The Chili Peppers’ bassist, showed up. When the group session began, the therapist asked Flea, “How does it make you feel when Anthony’s out there using drugs and you have no idea where he is or if he’s ever going to come back?” Kiedis cringed in his seat. He figured Flea was going to rant about how mad he is that Kiedis is ruining all of their hard work. And he would be right.

But Flea burst into tears. “I’m afraid he’s going to die on me,” he sobbed. “I don’t want him to die.” Flea cared about Kiedis as more than a means to an end.

Truly great bands such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers treat each other like family. That’s where their resilience comes from. Flea wasn’t happy about what Kiedis’s behavior was doing for the band. But first and foremost he was worried about him as his friend.

The same goes for startups. Other people are not just there to get the work done. They are not disposable parts. If they are, the team will have zero resilience for when times get tough. Without a strong relational fabric, the team will collapse at the first bump in the road.

Why does caring matter so much? Because it brings out the best in others. It facilitates others by giving them the support they need so that they can contribute at their highest level. It also creates a safe environment for making mistakes and experimenting.

Caring comes with playfulness, which helps with burnout and also opens up the team’s resources and creativity. And caring increases loyalty. When band members look out for each other, they build a reservoir of goodwill that they tap into when times get tough.

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Golden Music $7,000 Donation to Denver Public Schools

In April 2014, I met with John Epps, Denver County Schools Arts Coordinator. We discussed his challenges in the Denver Schools with the Arts. We visited his offices where they have all the costumes for the County as well,as all the props (see pictures). Golden Music donated 10 violins to John valued at over $7,000 as well as accessories. When I saw the shelf for the music supplies, I was shocked! There was two cakes of rosin and three old worn our shoulder rests! He came by a few days later and we filled them up with stuff we had. Denver Public Schools has 83,000 students at 185 schools: 85 elementaries, 18 K-8, 4 K-12, 26 Middle Schools, 14 6-12th grade schools and 35 High Schools. It’s not a small district. Seventy-two percent of it’s students are on Free and Reduced Lunch, so it’s not a rich district. There are 15,000 employees.  They feed 20,000 breakfasts per day, 46,000 lunches, and 5,200 snacks. So that is 60,874 free lunches per day… sounds more like a food service rather than a school! Anyway, the music programs are on the upswing with the county putting resources toward them.

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It Only Took Four Days for the Bowling Alley to Come Down

We fought it for 18 months, but forces stronger than us were in action.  We felt the Golden Bowl was something good for a community, good for people to come together and spend time in a simple, fun way.  Of course, it needed remodeling, of course, it needed updating…  Having been a neighbor of the bowling alley for 17 years, through four owners, I’d say that the fault lies in the last two landlords who bought the property just for the purpose of demolition.  They didn’t run the bowling alley themselves, but planned to tear it down to sell for development purposes.  Why would they want to put money into making it nicer?  That wouldn’t make sense, but that’s exactly what it needed, a caring touch.  Golden folks support businesses like the Golden Bowl, but they need to be clean, wholesome, family places.  Not that the Golden Bowl wasn’t wholesome, but it needed some remodeling.  We put an offer in to buy it but it was not accepted. In our other attempts to keep it as a bowling alley, we contacted the city numerous times with no avail, the Park and Recreation board, no luck, our city councilers, no response, GURA – encouraged us to move, etc.    We support Natural Grocers and love their stores and wish them the best.

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