An exclusive interview with the D’Addario Foundation director Suzanne D’Addario Brouder on music and music education.
LOS ANGELES, CA — Earlier last month, the D’Addario Foundation held their inaugural Back 2 School Benefit Show, a special night aimed to bring music back to schools and communities.
The night featured an amazing lineup of musicians and comedians coming together for one night at Downtown Los Angeles’ historic Palace Theatre. Led by house band The Watkins Family Hour & producer Mike Viola, the night featured one-off performances with guests Mandy Moore, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), John C. Reilly, LP, Langhorne Slim, Garfunkel & Oates, Blake Mills and Mike Garza.
“Studies and data has shown conclusively that immersive music education programs could be the single, most effective way to engage students, build self-confidence and create community,” the foundation writes about the event. “I addition to catching once-in-a-lifetime performances and collaborations amongst world-class musicians, Back 2 School attendees will be contributing directly to The D’Addario Foundation’s mission to put music education back in the forefront and into the lives of those who otherwise might not have these opportunities.”
To speak further about the foundation and its efforts, D’Addario Foundation’s director Suzanne D’Addario Brouder had a chance to write to Blurred Culture contributor Rachel for an exclusive interview:
First, how did the D’Addario Foundation come to be and what is its mission?
The non-profit D’Addario Foundation was established almost 40 years ago to address dramatic cuts in music education. Our mission is to partner with innovative non-profit arts programs led by passionate individuals that plant themselves firmly in communities of need and provide free and frequent instrument instruction for as long as possible in a child’s education. It’s very simple, we are bringing music education back to as many children as possible.
What is the problem with music education for kids, and how do you hope to plan to solve it?
One of the primary problems is that as standardized testing elevated in importance the unintended consequence was cuts to music and arts programs in schools in the U.S. Providing access to dynamic and frequent music education through our partner programs is tackling a number of issues. First, it is an effective educational tool for students that struggle with traditional academic subjects. When a child has access to multiple days a week of music, they are more excited about going to school and more engaged in the music classroom and in other classrooms as well. Second, there is a significant equity issue when it comes to music and arts education. If a child does not have access to music in their school, chances are they are not playing music because it is expensive to own an instrument and pay for lessons. Even in school music programs cost money for students many times. This issue is addressed by supporting programs that establish themselves in communities with the highest need and run free, communal programs that attract as many students as possible. Third, studies have revealed that kids who participate actively in music education perform better in school academics. Studying music has been proven to enhance auditory and literary development particularly in children who are at the critical age of transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Joyous, communal, social/emotional experiences making music have profoundly positive effects on individual students and the greater community.
“Studies have revealed that kids who participate actively in music education perform better in school academics.”
Where have you personally seen music save kids/young adults’ lives?
Well first, ask any musician today and he/she will probably tell you that music literally saved their lives. But you’d be surprised, I spoke to a man that works in the financial world yesterday and he told me that when he was handed a trumpet, his world suddenly changed for the better. We have been so blessed to watch the growth of students in our programs many of whom participate on average for 7 years. Some of those students are now applying to and attending college. These are kids that live in places where the high school drop-out rate hovers at 50%. They are beating the odds and they attribute it in large part to participation in their community music programs. The D’Addario Foundation’s College Assistance Scholarship Program launched last year then helps these kids through college. Seven of the ten scholarship recipients this year are first generation to attend college. And these kids have an enormous sense of giving back and will serve as mentors in the programs that helped give them so much.
As a female guitar player myself, I love seeing incentives for more women and girls to pick up guitars. Tell me a little more about D’Addario’s Girls In Music Initiative!
There is a huge gender imbalance in the music world. We are doing everything we can to support programs that provide the resources and guidance girls need to study music and the encouragement they need to keep playing. Guitar Center has been an amazing partner with us on this initiative and each year the momentum for it grows. For example, we recently established the first female guitar scholarship at the Musicians Institute and we are helping female-centric programs attract more students. Our next goal is to take this global.
The simple answer is aligning with a wonderful team of people. Amy Reitnouer Jacobs at the Bluegrass Situation as well as Jeff Kaye, artist relations manager at D’Addario and Co. are responsible for the amazing line-up. But, I will also say that these artists are very busy people and the fact that they are taking the time out of their schedules to do this show speaks to their belief in the cause and the work we are doing at the D’Addario Foundation.
What kind of special performances can we look forward to?
This is going to be an incredible unique show that plays to the theme of Back2School a bit. It really will be like nothing else you have seen – lots of surprises as well.
What is your personal relationship with music, and why do you feel it’s so important?
Music is a form of meditation for me, something I don’t believe I was aware of until I became an adult. The best way I can express the importance of music is to tell a story about one of my children. I was helping my son practice piano. He started with a scale to warm-up and I watched his little fingers as he followed the keys, curling his thumb under on his right and his middle finger over on his left to reach the full scale. He did each hand separately and then did both hands together which as simple as it sounds requires a good bit of focus and coordination as your hands are doing different things. I did it myself and, out of practice, found it was harder than it looked. He then did both hands together with his eyes closed. This experience reaffirmed my strong belief that studying music is an amazing exercise for your brain. Just an hour or so earlier we were doing homework together and he seemed much less focused, easily distracted and not nearly as challenged as he was sitting at that piano bench. And, after he finished, he had an enormous sense of accomplishment that just radiated out of him. Music isn’t easy. The reason it unlocks such enormous benefits like creative thinking is because it is challenging. But the rewards are immeasurable and long-lasting.
Lastly, what do you hope people leave with after this night?
I hope people leave with an enthusiasm for the cause and a desire to want to be a part of the solution. Anyone (you don’t need to be a musician) can get involved in supporting efforts to bring more music into the lives of kids. Simply broadcasting (via social media) your support of organizations like the D’Addario Foundation and the amazing programs in your local communities is an effective way to bring attention to those working quietly to better the lives of the children they serve through music. We are at a critical time when younger generations are less connected than ever to meaningful things. Music, I believe unlike anything else has the ability to affect positive universal change.
As the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instrument accessories, D’Addario uses up to 10% of their net earnings each year to fund these programs. This night, 100% of the ticket sales and donations went straight to the D’Addario Foundation.