There is no denying the power music has on our lives – to lift our moods, inspire new ways of thinking, help foster deeper connections, and more. With our rich legacy in audio technologies and innovations, no one understands the power of music better than our teams at HARMAN. We believe everyone has the right to experience the benefits of music, which is why, through our global purpose initiative HARMAN Inspired, our teams are bringing music education to students of all ages by partnering with leading nonprofits to enhance and modernize youth programs.
In recognition of Music in Our Schools Month®, we spoke with Dave Wish, Founder and CEO of Little Kids Rock, our leading music education non-profit partner, to learn more about the transformative power of music and his mission to bring inclusive, culturally responsive music education to schools.
Q: Dave, you founded Little Kids Rock in 2002 – can you share some more details about your background, what Little Kids Rock does, and your partnership with HARMAN?
DW: When I first started working, I was a teacher at an elementary school that had very limited funds available to support its music program. I know how important access and exposure to art is for young children’s development but I also knew that true change required me to take action to ensure these kids were able to enjoy learning and playing music. So, I started a free after-school program which evolved into Little Kids Rock in 2002. What started as an informal side project became a non-profit organization that brings music education to hundreds of thousands of students across the country.
With the support of our partners, we provide free instruments, lessons, performance experiences, and more to over half a million students in nearly 3,000 schools across the United States. Our goal is to help every child experience the transformational power of music by teaching them how to play the music they already know and love. Students today want to know how to play rock, make rap beats, or make a country song; we help teachers meet their students where they are by building music programs that are as diverse as the students they serve.
HARMAN has been a wonderful partner for so many years. Because it is both an audio and a technology company, together we have explored how technology can help bring music education to students outside of regular school hours and in new ways, like through our special website Jam Zone. Especially in these pandemic times, technology is critical to music education.
Q: Speaking of last year, providing effective music education programs is challenging even in the best of times. Has the pandemic affected Little Kids Rock and its mission?
DW: There’s no question that the pandemic turned the entire field of education on its head, music education being no exception. Kids suddenly went from playing music together in the same space and at the same time as their friends to virtual lessons. Meeting virtually has its benefits, but we just can’t replicate the same energy or experience they get when playing side by side. Classes struggle with connection and latency issues, not to mention not every student has the same access to the technology and resources necessary for online classes.
But we never gave up! It just took some reimagining of what makes a virtual music class effective. Luckily, musicians are inherently creative and teachers across the country responded in kind. We can still do so much online – holding music appreciation classes, recording together – many aspects remained somewhat the same.
The pandemic emphasized how important music really is. Just take a look at what people of all ages have been turning to for emotional support over the last year – it’s the arts. Music, television, movies, painting and more are all intended to be emotionally supportive and our reliance on these avenues has become even more apparent in these times.
Q: How have remote-learning tools like Jam Zone taken on new levels of importance over the last year?
DW: The Jam Zone has always offered online lesson plans and tutorials for the songs that kids are actually interested in playing. It features today’s popular songs that kids already love in a setting that lets them learn at their own pace and in a comfortable setting. The growth in users over the last year has been explosive. We’re currently serving 325,000 annual users, more than double our 160,000 annual visitors in 2019.
The digital divide remains a challenge, especially during a time when everything is virtual. Some children don’t have access to high speed internet, or maybe there is only one computer in a household where multiple people need to use it throughout the day. But this shouldn’t stop kids from experiencing the joy of music. It’s one of the reasons I’m advocating for wider broadband access – it’s not just a “nice to have” anymore, it’s a must have. Music isn’t made, consumed, or distributed in the same ways that it was 50 years ago, and music education needs to move at the same speed of music creation. Songwriting and producing is aided and abetted by technology; it has been since the advent of multi-track recording. Now, Little Kids Rock is working to incorporate these advancements into the music education curriculum.
Q: As students begin returning to in-person classes, what do you think teachers and parents need to keep in mind for kids who are passionate about band, chorus, or similar activities?
DW: In the near team, we have to keep our focus on the health and safety for all students and educators. We won’t immediately go back to “normal” when it comes to music education. No industry can cross the digital Rubicon unchanged – just look at the recording or newspaper industries. I expect that we will rely on a hybrid approach between online and in-person classes so we can take advantage of the best of both worlds. Even though virtual music has its benefits, there are some aspects that can’t be replicated virtually, like the camaraderie between musicians and bandmates, the energy of the room, and the bonds people create while playing music together – that’s all magic that has to be experienced in person.
The way I think about it, it’s like if someone who previously used maps to navigate now only uses a GPS. They won’t go back to relying on maps, but they are going to lose some skills and knowledge they had before. It’s the same with virtual music classes. It’s incredible to support self-directed learning and curiosity, but we don’t want to lose that group-learning environment over time either.
Q: What’s next for the Little Kids Rock team? Is more in-person programming on its way?
DW: We are gearing up to host in-person classes and events, but we’re following the guidance and recommendations very closely to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy. Little Kids Rock started as a brick-and-mortar space with just a little bit of digital offerings pre-pandemic. While we’re excited to get back to in-person events, there will always be a virtual component to our programs moving forward.
I expect there will be a more even balance between the two in the future. For example, one of our biggest events every year involves bringing more than 700 teachers together from across the country to play music together and learn from one another. We hosted the event virtually in 2020 as well as this year. We had an amazing turnout – teachers who normally couldn’t travel or take time off were able to finally attend. Now, we’re looking at how to host the event in-person and online in the future so attendees can have more opportunities to participate.
Whether we’re in-person, remote, or a mix – Little Kids Rock is and will always be there. Music and the arts are too important to society and civilization, and the future in general. The future of the world lies in our children’s creativity and passions, and we have to invest in that. Together we can empower the next generation to help lead us on a better path forward.
Our teams at HARMAN have experienced first-hand how music and musical education can help students build self-esteem and encourage a love of learning. Throughout the year, we work with our partners to help bring students, teachers, and schools the resources they need to help spread the joy of making music. Together, we can help the next generation realize their potential through the power of music and technology.