Thursday, March 20, 2014

Berklee to help expand music programs for NYC students

Move over, Jack Black: Berklee College of Music is tuning up to help launch new schools of rock, in New York City. The Back Bay college has announced it will provide its expertise to strengthen music education in the city’s public schools. Berklee will collaborate with the nonprofit Little Kids Rock to expand genre-spanning programs to an additional 60,000 students in 600 schools, from kindergarten to 12th grade, college officials said.

Organizers say the initiative, called “Amp Up NYC,” is the largest private investment to date in a city’s public school music education program. So far, it has raised about $10 million, they said. Berklee will contribute its online curriculum that provides sheet music, history, and recordings for modern songs at no cost, with a goal of interesting older students, said Berklee president Roger Brown. “We want students to start playing music they love and become more interested in it,” Brown said by telephone Wednesday.

Little Kids Rock will provide teaching materials geared at younger students, he said. Both groups will host training sessions for interested teachers and donate instruments. “We’ve already held some of these sessions and it is so inspiring to see teachers volunteer for this,” Brown said. “They’ve all been really enthusiastic about it.” So far, 72 New York City educators have been trained, he said.

Barbara Murray, the music director for New York Public Schools, said the system is thrilled to partner with the two organizations. “The program is accessible, and it’s something you can do to immediately sound like a musician,” Murray said. “We want every student to be able to express him or herself and have the joy of making music.”

The idea to start the partnership in New York came after Brown met Little Kids Rock’s founder David Wish at a consortium in the city. Wish already had connections within the public school system, so the two groups decided to join forces.

“Amp Up NYC” will officially kick off Friday, during an event at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School. Brown and Wish will join a group that includes former New York Yankee Bernie Williams, an accomplished classical guitarist; Grammy-winning producer and musician Steve Jordan; and “Saturday Night Live” keyboardist Tuffus Zimbabwe, a Berklee alumnus.

Berklee already has implemented its curriculum at many public schools in Boston, across the country, and in Canada.

Now, Brown said, the team is excited about the project’s New York debut.

“We’re hoping this will get students more excited about coming to school,” he said. “And hopefully, that energy will transfer into their academics.”

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