We’re all aware that music is good for children and music can keep people happy, healthy and mentally fit throughout their lives – and there’s evidence to back it up. But with threats to arts and music education funding in many countries, what can families of young musicians do to make sure the current generation of young musicians don’t get short-changed? Anita Holford and Dyfan Wyn Owen find out. . This article was first published on Musicstage.co, the online platform for the whole music community.
If you have a child or grandchild who’s involved in music, then you’ll already have experienced or heard about the impact of cuts to arts and music budgets in schools and in your local area. It’s frustrating, and at times may seem beyond your control: but parent (or grandparent) power can make a difference, and there are many ways that you can help.
Volunteer – give a little time, make a big difference
Giving your time and skills is an obvious step. Parent volunteer groups have been a part of schools and music organisations for decades, and are becoming an increasingly important part of the music education landscape. They’re often very flexible and open to whatever time or support you can offer: whether it’s an hour a month to help in the tuck shop, using your professional skills to put together a funding bid, organising an event or stewarding at a concert.
What could you offer?
Give help at rehearsals/concerts/events – from putting out chairs, to welcoming people/stewarding, to running a raffle or encouraging people to donate into collection boxes
Produce programmes for concerts/events (collecting information, writing, design/typesetting, selling adverts)
Get sponsorship (put together a sponsorship pack for businesses OR talk to friends/colleagues about the music programme/group and what they might offer and vice versa)
Fundraise – from tried and tested activities such as collections at concerts, ‘Bring and Buy’ sales and washing cars, to sponsored silences(!), bag packing in your local supermarket, or setting up an affiliate scheme with an online retailer.
Encourage other parents to support/join.
Jude Chapman, from Bedfordshire in England, started by offering her graphic design skills and ended up chairing a Friends committee for her local music service: “When the cuts in the UK happened in 2007 I realised how this would jeopardise future generations being able to engage with music education and receive the benefits both my youngsters had. So I offered to create programme templates for concerts. This was just the start and soon I was organising and formalising a charity call Friends of Luton Youth Music – now in it’s fifth year. We’re a team of parents that do anything we can to aid the Luton Music Service and the Luton Music Hub, from serving refreshments at the Saturday Music School to running front and back of house at concerts. We formalised the charity in 2008 and I became chair, all I can say is that it has given me a great deal of satisfaction and wonderful experiences working with all the talented young musicians in Luton.”
VIDEOS: Tips for fundraising:
Set up a parents group or committee
If there isn’t already a parents/volunteers organisation, you could set one up yourself (and in the case of a school, a Music Parents Committee could be set up in a similar way to any Parents Committee).
You could start as an informal group, and then over time you may want to consider becoming more ‘official’. There’s some great advice on setting up a voluntary organisation in the arts on the Voluntary Arts website.
Laura Lamere, a mother of three from Massachusetts, USA, is the founder of Pavoh, a charity set up to support families and young musicians to find performance opportunities and information and resources about music. She’d had very little involvement in supporting music education until her son moved to elementary/secondary school, where she found that the arts wasn’t seen as a priority:
“There was a change of head, and I was worried that there might be even less support for the arts,” she remembers. “So I met with the person in charge of arts and asked if he could do with support from parents. He welcomed it, and it was really then just a case of organising people.”
She continues: “I asked for a room, for a day, and initially, I just emailed and phoned people I knew – and 12 parents showed up for our first meeting. We talked about ways we could support the arts. Everyone took a different task, and we set up a committee as part of the Parents Association. We then created a Performing Arts page on the school website, and promoted upcoming events on that. And even now I’ve moved on, it’s still going: it’s seen as a great way to get parents involved in the school.”
There’s some great advice here from Laura – An essential guide for music parents – particularly if your daughter/son is in a band.
Some of the best examples of music parent associations can be found in the United States – particularly those surrounding the marching bands movement such as the Mansfield Band Parents Assocation http://mansfieldbandparents.org (MBPA). These organisations are particularly active, raise significant sums for the organisations they support, and are often also powerful lobbyists.
As MBPA president Kevin Brown says: “As with public schools everywhere, our music programs are at risk of being underfunded or even going unfunded as the town struggles to make budgetary ends meet. Thankfully, the Mansfield community has rallied around our music programs and our Band Parents organisation has seen heroic support from a core group of longtime members as well as from new band parents just joining the fray as their kids get involved in school music programs.”
VIDEO: UK actress Arabella Weir shares her views about getting involved in a parents association, including tips for summer fair fundraising:
Small actions – particularly conversations – can make a big difference, talking to family, friends, colleagues or others about what’s happening in music education, and why music is important to a young person’s learning, life and future, can be a powerful way of making sure more people are informed. You never know what might happen as a result. If you have your own stories or anecdotes about how music’s made a difference to a young person’s life, even better – people remember these more than lots of facts and statistics.
The first step is to become more aware of the current state of music education in your local school, county/area, and/or country. Do your own background research on the web, looking at school or government policies, or contact people directly to ask for information.
At school level, you could start by writing or emailing the head of your child’s school to ask about the role that music plays there. Ask if they have a music policy or music education plan, what level of funding they put to this, and if this has reduced in recent years. In England, ask if they’re involved with their local music education hub (see further on).
VIDEOS: US based music retailer Music & Arts gives some tips for supporting music in the school and community:
Get in a position of influence
Perhaps the most effective way to influence school matters is to become a school governor or sit on a working group or committee. It’s not for everyone, but music needs more advocates in positions like this to make sure that it’s on the agenda. In fact, in the UK, Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, has said that artists themselves including musicians have a ‘moral responsibility’ to become school governors in order to influence policy.
If you’re not keen on going back to school, then joining the management board or committee of a music organisation is another way to support young people’s music. You’ll attend meetings, give advice and views on the direction of the organisation, and perhaps advocate for the organisation (for example, if you have contacts on a local council or decision-making organisation).
Influence change: advocate and lobby
As a parent and a taxpayer, policy makers and politicians want to hear from you – and so you can be a powerful voice for change.
According to a 2005 Harris Poll, 40 per cent of parents in the USA said they didn’t know how to get involved with encouraging support of arts education, and 62 per cent believed that other people or organisations were better suited to take action on the matter on behalf of their children.
As a result, the Ad Council teamed up with Americans for the Arts and the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM) in 2010 to announce launch a series of newspaper and magazine advertisements for ‘The Arts. Ask for More’ campaign, which asked parents to get involved in advocacy.
So take any opportunity you can to talk to politicians and policy makers – perhaps ask for a meeting. Tell them why you think music is important, back that up with a personal story of change or impact, and some statistics relevant to your area.
Make your message relevant to them: if you’re talking to an education policy maker or funder, speak in terms of attainment and achievement. A publication produced in Australia, ‘Music to our ears – a guide for parents in the campaign for music education in schools’ makes a persuasive point, that: ‘It is notable that the countries with the highest scores in reading, maths and science, including China (Shanghai), Hong Kong, Finland, Singapore and South Korea, mandate approximately one to two hours of music education per week. Other school systems that score higher than us on PISA rankings, like those of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, have music taught wholly by music specialists.’
Joining one of the national associations or societies that advocates for music will also help (see boxout) and even if you don’t join, you’ll find lots of useful resources and evidence to help you with advocacy.
VIDEO: Advice from US-based Character Education Partnership on the difference individual parents can make:
Music advocacy advice and associations
National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM Foundation)
• Grassroots advocacy guides
National Association for Music Education (NafME)
• What to say to people about music education
• Various music advocacy resources
• Broader minded advocacy campaign
National Association of Music Parents (AMP)
The Texas Music Educators Association
Children’s Music Workshop
If you live in England, connect with your local music education hub, or in Wales with your music service
The 123 hubs created in England in 2012 to co-ordinate and promote music education are also an avenue for parents and grandparents to get information about, and champion music education. Some have regular enewsletters and most will have websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts where they share useful information, resources and opportunities to get involved.
Believe you can change things …
Great things happen when you see there’s a need, believe you can help, and act on your belief. After setting up the parents committee in her son’s school, Laura Lamere went on to found YouthJAM! a music event for teen rock bands and solo artists, attracting hundreds of local teens and families while also raising funds for charity: “By then my son was in a band, but there was nowhere for them to play, they were too young to play in bars and clubs, and so I asked my local church if we could use their stage. They were looking for ways to involve the community more, so they agreed, and we did two years’ worth of gigs.”
After that, Laura created a blog about parenting and the arts (www.LauraLamere.com) before setting up Pavoh. “I was saying to my husband that my blog was really just a resources page, that what was really needed was a website. He said ‘why don’t you go further, set up a non-profit’ – so I did!” Now Pavoh offers guitar lessons in schools where children otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn an instrument. “In the US, if you want to play soccer, you can do it in school, and each town has a local team, they’re well organised, have good communications,” she continues. “But if you want to do something in the arts, you have to look much harder. I think in the US we’re probably a few years ahead in terms of parent power because we’ve been fighting for these things for longer.”
Tips from parents Laura Lamere and Jude Chapman
LL: Get in touch with parents who are facing the same problems. Be social – don’t just leave after lessons, hang around after a rehearsal, invite people to coffee. Find out informally what people are concerned about, and what they need.
JC: Get involved. We need more parents to come forward and do whatever they can to help. I donate all my time for free and see it as my way to giving back. I’m also governor of the local sixth form college so can influence in that way too.
LL: Running a fundraiser – an event or concert – is easier than you might think. You can rent really inexpensive sound equipment, set up a band, and host a performance a local community venue or even at your house! They’re a great way to advocate, because people see what you’re advocating in action – and if you want to fundraise, ask for donations.
JC: Consider raising funds through sponsorship. As a charity we go beyond serving refreshments at concerts. We’ve gained sponsorship to support things like coaches for travel to competitions, trips for groups to perform abroad, and for talented musicians to attend a weekly group outside of Luton. We also offer bursaries that give 50% towards tuition and after-school activities for students who fall in the gap between those who are funded for lessons (essentially those on free school meals and looked-after children) and those who can afford to pay.
LL: Tell the story of why music education is important – watch out for articles, news items, social media posts and gather them, share them, talk about them.
LL: Stay in touch with the music educators, try to lend a parents’ perspective and see how you can help them.
Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.