Posts tagged ‘music education’

March 7, 2013


In a recent issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal, a Voices From The Arts column caught my eye. The headline was “Young artists aim for something lasting” and it was written by Sarah Lillegard, the arts and programming director for The Holland Project.

The Holland Project is a Reno organization that encourages and supports young people who are passionate about art and music. It’s similar to Seattle’s Vera Project and gives like-minded kids and teens opportunities to learn, network and showcase their creative projects.

What grabbed my attention was that Lillegard shed light on a universal truth about wanting to become a professional artist, musician or composer. You can’t go into it for the fame or money, because those aren’t guaranteed. You do it because you love it and you can’t imagine spending your life doing anything else.

Lillegard wrote, “Living in Reno, the art that haunts and speaks the loudest isn’t always in the established galleries and museums, but at coffee shops and one-night shows. Beneath the white walls and exhibition’s cards of this town, there are generations of young artists making work with a fierce determination.”

She said that most of these aspiring artists are well aware that they may have a difficult road ahead of them. They could play it safe and learn a trade, but they are willing to take risks and make sacrifices for the sake of being happy.

Lillegard explained, “Having watched parents work middle-income jobs to little or no satisfaction, these artists have a want for more, even if it means that money is less.”

As I’ve previously mentioned on my blog, my parents were less than thrilled when I announced my intention to become a professional musician and composer. They wanted me to play it safe, to become a plumber. I know that they were worried about my future and I appreciated their concern. But I knew that music was the only career path for me.

I’m glad that organizations like The Holland Project and The Vera Project are out there to help young people explore the possibilities of careers in art or music. Some participants may find that they don’t have the drive or desire to pursue art or music professionally — and that’s fine, too. Learning about art and music will always improve your life and make you a well-rounded person.

For more information about The Holland Project, visit

For more information about The Vera Project, visit

August 20, 2012


I’m not a music teacher, but my goal, when I started this blog, was to inspire and help young people who love music. Having worked as a professional musician and composer for most of my life, and having been involved in my kids’ music programs, I’d like to offer a few tips for the new school year.


• Choose an instrument that appeals to you, rather than the one that your friends think is cool. Experiment with different instruments, until you find one that best fits your personality and ability. Most schools and music stores offer trial rental programs and/or programs that apply rental payments to the purchase of an instrument.

• Yes, you do need to practice. Don’t fall into the “all or nothing” routine. Setting aside 20 minutes a day, or even a few times a week, is better than not practicing at all.

• Look for role models and mentors — not just your favorite recording artists, but people in your community. Park districts and teen centers often sponsor free or inexpensive concerts or workshops where you can interact with more experienced musicians. Some of the most successful musicians and composers of all time — The Beatles, for example — were once just curious kids who sought opportunities to meet like-minded, talented people. And look where it got them!


• Don’t force a particular instrument on your child because it’s the instrument you played or wanted to play. Likewise, don’t choose your child’s instrument based on gender. Once upon a time, girls played flutes and clarinets and the brass and percussion instruments were reserved for boys. Thankfully, times have changed. At most schools, you now see kids of either gender playing any instrument they like. Keep in mind that if your child is not happy with his or her instrument, practice will not be a priority and it’s even less likely that he or she will want to participate in school music at all.

• Show up for your child’s performances. Just as student athletes would be discouraged if no one showed up to cheer for them at the big game, music students want and need your applause and your approval. Make every effort to attend your child’s recitals, concerts and athletic events where your child is a member of the marching band or pep band. Kids and teens don’t always admit it, but your presence (or lack thereof) matters to them. When they don’t see your face in the auditorium or the stadium, it sends a negative message: “My parents think this is a waste of time, so why am I bothering to play music?”

• In this tough economy, many schools are struggling to keep both sports and music programs alive. Parent-run boosters’ clubs often must come to the rescue. If your child’s school doesn’t have a music boosters’ organization, “band together” (pardon the pun) with other parents to start one. Every dollar helps, whether it’s raised through a bake sale, a silent auction, creating small music ensembles to perform at private parties and so on. Do check with teachers and school administrators to make sure that proper policies and guidelines are followed.


• I have a lot of respect and admiration for hard-working men and women who have the patience and dedication to share their love of music with kids and teens. Dealing with a wide variety of kids and their parents and their various temperaments has to be enormously challenging. Having said that, when I was growing up and when my kids were in school music programs, there were always a few music students who stood out for the wrong reasons. Either they were the class clown, they were cocky and rude or maybe they were excessively timid or falling asleep in class. Before judging that child as a troublemaker or slacker, please stop to consider circumstances that might not be visible. The child may be facing a crisis at home or he/she may have an undiagnosed illness or learning disability. Helping that child to “fit in” in a music program may be a lifeline, a reason for him or her to care about coming to school.


Best wishes for an exciting and successful year of school music.

July 1, 2012


“Money for nothin’ and chicks for free” was a teaser for aspiring musicians in Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Money for Nothing,” sometimes also known as the “I Want My MTV” song. The song was intended to be humorous, playing up the perks of being in a rock and roll band. Yet there are people who envision that lifestyle and believe that it’s a cinch to obtain it.

Don’t get into playing music if you think that is the reality — or if those are the only rewards you’re seeking. To be successful for the long haul, you should want to play or write music for the right reasons. And it’s important to educate yourself about both the craft of music and the business of making a living at that craft.

At the beginners’ level, don’t skip your K-12 band or orchestra programs. You won’t know how much playing those Sousa marches or “Claire de Lune” will help you to write or interpret your own compositions years down the road. Also seize opportunities to play or sing with ensembles outside of your school. There now are many “School of Rock”-type organizations, either independently owned and operated or aligned with park districts or museums.

The Old Fire House Teen Center in Redmond, WA was offering a place for young musicians to perform, interact and learn from professionals, many years before that trend took off. Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle and The Recording Academy, with locations in many major cities, also offer music camps and competitions for kids and teens. And don’t overlook the National PTA’s Reflections festival, which encourages students to submit recordings of music they’ve composed or performed. Participation in such programs can greatly expand your horizons and give you new perspectives on how to present your music to wider audiences.

At the college level, my friend Mitch Gallagher is spearheading an applied music curriculum at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Berklee College of Music in Boston and Full Sail University in Florida are also among the very best places to study the art and business of music. Depending on your budget or personal circumstances, you may not be able to take advantage of what these particular schools can offer. But do take advantage of what you can do, within your own circle of friends or your own hometown, to practice and perfect your music.

Remember, “Money for nothin’ and chicks for free” doesn’t necessarily exist in the real world.

Onstage with Lois Lane in Chicago.