Charity Event Will Support ‘Modern’ Music Education Programs

By Jessica Brown — May 07, 2015 2 min read
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What do Facebook and the drummer from Red Hot Chili Peppers have in common? They both support music education, and they’re part of a charity event May 16 in San Francisco to raise money for the cause.

Charity events to support music education are common. Many school districts seek the help of nonprofits to support their programs when budgets are tight. But the May 16 Little Kids Rock Family Jam charity event at Facebook’s headquarters stands out because it is geared specifically to bringing pop and rock music curriculum to more schools.

Once a niche field, using popular music to supplement traditional music curriculum is gaining favor. Proponents say it’s a good way to engage students in music education. More organizations are developing lesson plans and leveraging help from groups like Little Kids Rock.

Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit based in Verona, New Jersey remains one of the best-known charities dedicated specifically to this cause. To date, it has reached 400,000 students in more than 29 cities, according to its Web site. Its “modern band” curriculum sets it apart from many other music education nonprofits.

Think about the 2003 movie, “School of Rock.” The teacher, played by actor Jack Black, turns his class into a rock band. It seems like a pretty great way to learn class lessons—and life lessons—right? Well, that was Hollywood. But the idea can work in real life. Education Week reported last year how the New York City school system is doing it, via a partnership with the Berklee College of Music in Boston and Little Kids Rock.

Other school districts that have adopted the modern band program include the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Dallas, Chicago, and Hartford districts.

The New York partnership last year was the first district-level partnership for Little Kids Rock. “Students who see themselves reflected in the curriculum feel a deeper connection to their school,” said David Wish, founder and executive director of Little Kids Rock in an Education Week interview for that story.

The organization’s Web site says the program “teaches kids to perform, improvise, and compose using the popular styles that they know and love including rock, pop, reggae, hip hop, R & B, and other modern styles. Modern Band classes feature guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals, technology, and computers.”

Music education experts say programs like this help keep music education relevant and engaging. Darla Hanley,the dean of the professional education division at Berklee talked about the issue in a recent Education Week story.

At this year’s Family Jam Event, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith will be honored for his work as a music education activist. Here’s a video of him in a drum-off with actor Will Ferrell to raise money for Little Kids Rock and Cancer for College. Little Kids Rock will give him the “Livin’ the Dream Award” for his support of music education.

Wondering about the Facebook connection? The Livin’ the Dream Award was created to honor the late Josef Desimone, who was Facebook’s executive chef and a big supporter of Little Kids Rock. He died in a motorcycle crash in 2013.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.