Saving Music Education

Forced to cut budgets, many public schools look first at trimming or eliminating the arts. Luckily, large corporations in and out of the music industry have partnered with major not-for-profit organizations to help avoid this scenario.

It’s no secret that America has fallen on some hard economic times. As a result, school budgets get slashed, and music education programs get cut and sliced. Although no one “knight in shining armor” can fix this nationwide, several corporations have stepped in to try and help music education continue.

The Parade Must Go On

Marching in the Rose Parade is one of the greatest honors for a marching band— but what if a school got invited and couldn’t afford to make the trip? Starting in 2009, Farmers Insurance Group became the “Official Supporter of Rose Parade Bands.”

“Farmers is here in LA, and we’ve been a participant in the Rose Parade for 50 years,” says Leslie Withoft, community branding manager at Farmers. “We thought it was important to find a way to deepen the relationship. There was no one really supporting the bands.”

The nationwide network of local Farmers Insurance agents helped individual bands in their communities by making donations of needed items, supporting the band’s fundraisers and leveraging corporate resources to help them.

“The fact that our agents and district managers are involved for an entire year, they build a relationship with these bands and become part of the community,” Withoft says. “The parents are very thankful that we’ve become involved because it obviously is a daunting task to raise the money, so to have any corporation come in and help is very appreciated.”

Several bands got to use the Farmers Insurance “ExtraordinAir” hot air balloon for their fundraisers. The Conroe (Texas) High School Tiger Band used Farmers “Customer Care Vehicles” to transport its instruments. In South Kitsap, Wash., Farmers organized a “Dodge for Roses” dodgeball tournament that raised several thousand dollars for the high school band.

“Just the fact that somebody else was willing to step in and organize something and plan it was unbelievable,” says Gary Grams, band director at South Kitsap High School. “We’re not a wealthy community; we’re working class, so any bit of money we could get from anywhere helped out immensely. It was nice to be able to work with people who were passionate about helping at times like this.”

If the marching bands weren’t a big enough part of the Rose Parade already, in 2010 Farmers celebrated its new role by leading the parade with a float shaped like a marching band member, followed by the “Farmers Insurance Band” comprised of Riverside Community College students.

“We thought it was important to announce our new role,” Withoft says. “Tying in with the theme, having a Farmers band and being the first float in the parade was a significant moment for us.”

Magical Moments

On a national scale, the GRAMMY Foundation, the charity branch of The Recording Academy, has recruited many corporate partners in pursuit of its mission to promote the value of music in American culture.

Through its GRAMMY in the Schools, GRAMMY Career Day and GRAMMY Camp programs, the foundation not only helps existing music programs but also adds music-related curriculum and gives kids a chance to discover and experience all music-related career opportunities (not just performance).

For example, Disney Youth Programs wanted to find a way to give back to music education as part of the 25th anniversary of Disney Magic Music Days, where school groups travel to Disney theme parks to perform and participate in clinics. They enlisted the help of instrument manufacturer Conn-Selmer, which donated five string basses that were then hand-painted by animation artists with Disney characters—Aladdin’s Genie, the Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel, the Cheshire Cat and Dumbo.

“We are so proud of the millions of students whose lives have been impacted from their experience at Disney Magic Music Days,” says Tim Hill, director of special programs for Disney Youth Programs for Disney Destinations in a press release. “We can’t think of a better way to celebrate 25 years than with giving back to music education.”

The basses will be auctioned off by Julien’s Auctions in June, and the proceeds will go to the GRAMMY Foundation. “They wanted to spotlight their program and also find a way to support the groups that feed their program,” says Scott Goldman, vice president of the GRAMMY Foundation. “We hope to derive some significant revenue. These are truly one-of-a-kind. We’re anxious to see how we do.”

Schools helped by the GRAMMY Foundation receive cash and recognition. Ace Martin, instrumental music chairman at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Fla., says that being the 2010 National GRAMMY Signature School winner has made a big difference for his program. The monetary donation went to music, equipment and fees for guest artists and clinicians, but Martin considers having the GRAMMY “stamp of approval” just as valuable.

“The GRAMMYs are the highest-recognized award show for music—it’s a sign that you’ve made it,” Martin says. “And the same is true for being a GRAMMY Signature School. It shows that you’re doing good things for music education. To be recognized by the GRAMMY Foundation makes people think twice before slashing our budgets.”

Mmm Mmm Good

Goldman and his staff at the foundation are always reaching out to corporations in hopes that they will be able to contribute. They then will work with the company to determine how they can help in a way that benefits all parties involved.

“There isn’t one way that is always right for a corporate sponsor to partner with an organization,” Goldman says. “There are all types of entry points.”

When Campbell’s Soup wanted to do something “Mmm Mmm Good” for music education, it linked its already-established “Labels for Education” program to the GRAMMY Foundation.

Kids and families save soup can labels and bring them into the schools, which then redeem them for educational materials ranging from art supplies and musical instruments to computer hardware and software. Any school that signs up gets access to the “Discovery Through Music” curriculum created by the GRAMMY Foundation. This six-week program teaches the basic elements of music and incorporates them into lesson plans for language arts, math, science and technology.

Campbell’s pays the GRAMMY Foundation a licensing fee for “Discovery Through Music,” and the foundation gets the chance to reach more than 40,000 schools they otherwise would not have had access to. The GRAMMY Foundation also helps Campbell’s recruit a group of “Artist Ambassadors,” including Trisha Yearwood as the national spokesperson and other popular musicians such as Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, Gavin DeGraw and Dave Koz, to promote the program. These artists appear in promotional materials for the program and offer free song downloads on the Labels for Education website.

Artist recruitment is one of the biggest incentives the GRAMMY Foundation has to offer its corporate partners. Because the GRAMMYs are such an important part of the music industry, and the GRAMMY Foundation is a charity, artists and music professionals are much more likely to want to help than simply endorsing a corporate product.

Be Next

Another example of this relationship is the GRAMMY Foundation’s partnership with Best Buy. Taylor Swift served as spokesperson for its “Sound Matters” campaign, which promoted in-ear headphones from several manufacturers in conjunction with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

The program went so well that Best Buy has again decided to partner with the GRAMMY Foundation for the “Be the Next” initiative, which will use its @15 program, where teens earn points online and decide who Best Buy awards grants to. While the exact details have yet to be set, Best Buy has pledged up to $1 million in grants and services.

“In the course of [the Sound Matters campaign], Best Buy began to see the length and the breadth of the GRAMMY in the Schools programming and agreed to get more involved,” Goldman says. As the new Best Buy Mobile (standalone mobile phone retailers) stores launch, the GRAMMY Foundation will be identifying high schools close to those locations to receive cash grants in honor of those stores.

“This is really about a partnership where the charity can use the leverage and the muscle of a corporate partner to engage a much broader constituency in the pursuit of its programs,” Goldman says. “And the corporations get the reflective glory, and they can leverage our name and brand to their consumers, and that has great value.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the USC Trojan Marching Band, where she is now a graduate teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from USC and is currently working on a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts).

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

A photo of Jeff Conner.

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