Thursday, September 18, 2008
By Mark S. Porter
of the Montclair Times
David Wish, left, founder of Little Kids Rock, is joined by Bonnie Raitt and a roster of other musical luminaries who are honorary board members of the organization dedicated to enriching children in learning to perform music. Photo courtesy of David Wish.
In the movies, the hills are alive with the sound of music.
In Montclair, Hillside School might soon be a-tune with the sound of rock music.
Hillside and Montclair's other public schools will be the beneficiaries of free musical instruments and volunteer tutors in a plan now underway in a collaboration involving the locally based Parents Who Rock organization and the national Little Kids Rock non-profit group, whose director and founder, David Wish, resides in Montclair.
Alma Schneider, founder of Parents Who Rock (PWR) said the goal is to generate $50,000 to purchase 500 guitars for the town's 11 public schools.
"For every $100 we make, there will be an instrument brought into school. The total we're hoping to raise is $50,000," Schneider said. "That includes up to 500 instruments, curriculum and Little Kids Rock staff who will train volunteers to teach the programs.
Schneider said she knows of PWR members who are "ready and waiting to teach the kids during and after school hours."
Expressing concern regarding the level of musical education in the public schools, Schneider said, "A small group of high school parents approached me, talking about the need for more music in the schools."
She acknowledged that the members of PWR -- who are all former performers in rock bands who have coalesced, as parents residing in Montclair, to again plug in the guitars and microphones -- are more focused on contemporary music than on Baroque or classical.
"It's rock-based, but the kids will be learning to compose music," Schneider said. "Kids relate to rock music and contemporary music. Once a child gets more involved in music, then the community expands. Being a part of a community gives a student a leg up."
About two months after David Wish founded Little Kids Rock in August 2001, he and his family moved from California to Montclair. During the past decade, Wish has set up local chapters of Little Kids Rock in 18 cities, "reaching over 25,000 kids.
"All instrument donations we make are really part of a program," Wish said. "We really believe children should be taught the music they listen to... We teach our kids to create their own original music."
About 30 teachers will be tutored in Little Kids Rock methodology, he said.
Wish started the organization in East Palo Alto, in the San Francisco Bay area, where he had worked as a first-grade teacher. Little Kids Rock has now rolled into cities such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas.
Referring to Alma Schneider as "a force of nature," Wish said that he enthusiastically agreed to partner with PWR. "Does it sound like a match made in heaven?" Wish asked, adding that the partnership could also be akin to a show on the Comedy Channel.
PWR and Little Kids Rock are working with the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, a non-profit organization that supports the Montclair School District.
Describing the collaboration as "a wonderful effort," Montclair Schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez said, "This will allow us to put an instrument in the hands of every fourth- and fifth-grader who wants to learn how to play.
"We would not have been able to do this on our own."
Alvarez said the promised volunteer instruction will be vital. He said the budget cuts that the district was forceed to make severely limited what music instruction it could provide this school year.
Schneider is already turning up the volume control on her self-amplifier to "11" to combine PWR with Little Kids Rock in a goal to enrich the students attending Montclair's public schools.
"We're going to be doing bake sales, concerts, and many other grassroots activities," Schneider said. "Parents Who Rock musicians can host a dinner. Parents Who Rock musicians will perform at other people's homes.
"We want to keep Montclair the coolest suburb in New Jersey."