A New Day for Music Education

Amidst a backdrop of historic change, economic upheaval, fear and uncertainty facing our world, 10 NAMM delegates (Chip Averwater, Kevin Cranley, Joel Menchey, Larry Morton, George Quinlan, Jr., Liane Rockley, Tom Schmitt, Dave Teeple and Christian Wissmuller) left their offices and stores and came to Washington D.C. to work, learn and ultimately lobby for the cause in which they believe…the right of every child to have access to music classes as part of his or her education. NAMM’s annual Member “Fly-In” rolled into town ready to take care of the industry’s business-at-hand.

It’s the continuation of the work that NAMM has done for quite some time. Mary Luehrsen, NAMM’s director of public affairs and government relations, reminded the group of that fact at the opening Monday dinner event inside of the U.S. Capitol Building. Luehrsen read a copy of minutes from a NAMM meeting in Chicago in 1933 describing how the association would need to work together with the NEA (National Education Association) and MENC (the National Association of Music Education) to keep school music strong and emerge from the woes of The Great Depression.

While the cause has been around for years, the political landscape at the federal, state and local levels changes constantly. And of course, change being the operative word when describing Washington in 2009 following the historic election of Barack Obama. 

To view archived footage of the webcast, please use the links below

View the Morning Session video footage
View the Afternoon Session video footage

Taking Advocacy to the Web
Tuesday kicked off NAMM’s first “Virtual Advocacy Days,” with a live all-day Web cast from the offices of Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, NAMM’s lobbying firm.  In his opening remarks, NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond said, “This year is maybe the most important fly-In we’ve done yet.  We believe in the reform in education that’s taking place — we believe that value comes through a complete education including music and the arts. We want to encourage and engage NAMM Members in this process in order to bring more people into this great work.”

In the morning session, all in attendance and the Web audience were treated to issue-focused and political presentations by Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council, Rep Jim Cooper from Tennessee, Phil Lader, chairman of the WPP Group ( a conglomerate of advertising and marketing agencies) and Jim Goldberg, NAMM’s long-time Washington counsel for issues affecting NAMM Members’ businesses.

During breaks between presenters, Luehrsen moderated a discussion of key industry issues including education, health care, market development and federal regulatory concerns. NAMM also fielded several questions that were sent in by the Web audience members.

Tuesday afternoon saw more strong discussions from Roberto Rodriguez, education policy expert on the White House Domestic Policy Council,  Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications and outreach from the U.S. Department of Education, and Charlie Cook, a well-known political pundit who has made frequent appearances on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News and ABC’s Good Morning America.

Peter Cunningham’s talk resonated with the group and showed clear progress was being made in disseminating NAMM’s message about the proven benefits of playing music. A guitar-player himself and member of his band Bread and Butter, he said, “I play music for my kids every single day. Music has been in my kids’ lives since before they were born.  Music is how they express themselves, find their friends and ultimately find themselves.” He also said the words that Luehrsen and NAMM’s tireless team of advocates were waiting to hear, that “music and arts education is absolutely a priority for this administration.”

NAMM’s Federal “Ask”

What is NAMM really seeking from Washington?  The association’s call to action or “ask” that came at the conclusion of all of its more than 40 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff was as follows:

1.    In the coming reauthorization of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, retain the language that music and arts education are core academic subjects.  This language which NAMM and its coalition of partners worked to make sure was included in the 2001 version of the bill is responsible for the strength of the music in schools arguments made every day by local advocacy groups across the country.

2.    Expand and allow flexibility for the application of Title I funds to be used for music education programs and resources as appropriate.

The Blue Man March on Washington
Music and arts education has many celebrity fans as well and NAMM’s advocacy efforts have been helped by such well-known personalities as James Taylor, Isaac Hayes, The Commodores and even Sesame Street’s Elmo.  This year, NAMM was fortunate to work with Matt Goldman, founder of the Blue Man Group, an entertainment group and worldwide phenomenon. Flanked by the three mischievous blue-headed men who appeared to be dusting him off, Goldman said, “Our work is about inspiring creativity, play-based education and choice. Instead of teaching creativity out of children, we need to preserve and nurture it so we can create a stable, sustainable world.”

Blue Man Group helped NAMM make some additional noise in Washington as the contingent presented SupportMusic Advocacy awards to Senators Lamar Alexander and Chris Dodd for their work to strengthen music education in schools. Photos from the rather unique presentation by NAMM chairman, Chip Averwater, VH1 Save the Music Foundation’s Paul Cothrane and the Blue Man Group, showed up across the Associated Press wire and on Politico.com, a key political site.

NAMM delegates George Quinlan, Jr. and Larry Morton had this to say about their experience in Washington.

"This is an exciting time to be in Washington.  This city is bursting with energy and optimism. As NAMM Members, we are particularly "jazzed up" that the Obama administration has identified education as a top priority.  The timing is ideal for a renewed look at the significant impact music and arts education plays in students' development. For America to compete in the 21st century, our workforce needs to be creative, innovative, and imaginative—the skills that only a TOTAL EDUCATION can provide.  As a participant in the NAMM Advocacy Fly-In team, I now feel empowered that the skills and strategies used on the national level can be employed at our state and local level to bring about important changes so every child has access to music education regardless of the zip code where they reside."

— George Quinlan Jr., Quinlan & Fabish Music Co.

"Having spent three days meeting with our representatives in Congress, I can personally attest that the important benefits of music education in our schools are firmly supported by our government officials. It's critical that NAMM, along with its music education partners, continue to focus resources towards music advocacy in Washington. It's more important now than ever." —  Larry Morton, Hal Leonard Corporation

In a business as diverse as the music products industry, there is no shortage of opinions about the state of music education in this country and what should be done about it. Some believe that music programs will continue to grow with our country’s demographics regardless of what anyone does.  Some think that many school music programs focus on the few “talented” students while the rest are encouraged to give up. Regardless of your beliefs about school music, just about everyone in the industry can agree with the volumes of scientific data that show that kids who study music in school are changed by that experience and do better in their studies and their lives. NAMM’s message emphasizes that every child must have access to music learning as part of a complete education.  And being a part of that process is enough to make any NAMM Member feel proud.