Program started to restore instrumental music in Seattle

by David Endicott, DCW staff

Thirty years ago, the instrumental music program in Seattle Public Schools was a model copied across the nation. Since then, because of levy failures and budget cutbacks, little of that once model program remains. It’s this way in many schools across the nation.

You know how it goes — budget woes mean that music instruction and other arts are the first programs to be cut. It’s gotten so bad here in Seattle that one music educator recently told me that the successful magnet programs for the truly talented music students are in jeopardy because there aren’t enough kids coming up through the system on which anyone can build. Eventually, this condition poses a threat to drum corps, too.

It was for this reason that we started a program here about a year and a half ago called Rotary Music4Life™,   The essential purpose is to help return instrumental music instruction to the core curricula of public schools. It began as an effort by Seattle Public Schools, the Rotary Club of Seattle (the largest Rotary club in the world) and the Northwest Youth Music Association (NYMA, the parent of the Seattle Cascades).

Since then, Rotary Music4Life has been adopted by Rotary District 5030 (all 56 Rotary clubs in the Seattle area), we have nearly completed our start-up task of building a success model that can be replicated anywhere, interest and inquiries are coming in from around the nation and we are now completing a revision of our governance structure.

Todate, we have been successful in acquiring nearly 200 musical instruments for use by students in the Seattle Public Schools. Most of these have been “lovingly used” instruments contributed by Rotarians from throughout District 5030 and beyond. One Rotarian from the Albuquerque, NM, club heard about our program on KING-FM Radio in Seattle while driving south from Vancouver, BC, and contributed an acoustic guitar. There are many others.

We have also been successful in implementing our new strategic relationships with musical instrument manufacturers by buying new student (entry level) instruments for kids. This is possible in large part through the Madison Scouts and Seattle area music stores, so our special thanks go out to them. This instrument acquisition program continues. Cash contributions continue to mount.

Recently, we received an enormous gift from the prominent downtown Seattle law firm of Garvey Schubert & Barer. After meeting with several of their staff attorneys, Garvey Schubert informed us that the firm is so impressed with Rotary Music4Life that it has decided to donate all of its professional services pro bono to us.   This represents a contribution of thousands of dollars, for which we are very grateful.

With GSB’s help, we are just now completing the legal documents that allow us to develop the governance of RM4L to its next highest level, including the filing of tax recognition documents with the IRS, development of the bylaws and several others.

Acquiring our own 501 (c)(3) designation from the IRS means we are restructuring our relationship with the Northwest Youth Music Association, but we will continue to be supportive of one another in a variety of ways, especially for NYMA’s visionary board chair, Mike Bujnowski.

We also continue to enjoy the active support of the Seattle Symphony and Maestro Gerard Schwarz, the Washington Music Educators Association, the Office of the Mayor of Seattle, KING-FM and many other organizations and individuals, even including Chuck Armstrong, the President of the Seattle Mariners baseball club.

RM4L continues to build on the basis of developing a success model applied in the Seattle Public Schools. Once we have this success model in place, it will be possible to replicate the idea anywhere you can find the following: 1) a child wanting to learn to play a musical instrument; 2) a willing school district; and 3) a Rotary club. In short, that’s EVERYwhere! We would add that this is a natural alliance for participation by any drum corps that wishes to build positive relationships with local music teachers.

While we have not been pursuing great public visibility for RM4L, we have received considerable media attention in the Northwest and RM4L was   recently featured in “The Rotarian,” the monthly publication that goes out to 1.3 million Rotary members around the world.   This has already resulted in inquiries from clubs and individuals in Western Washington, Portland, OR, San Antonio, Dallas, New York City and Madison, WI.

Finally, with the development of our new governance structure, we are positioned to make formal application for funding from non-Rotary organizations in the community that already have indicated interest in helping fund RM4L. We expect significant funding to result from this effprt, supplementing the funding we already receive from individual Rotarians, and making RM4L a real “community effort.”

At the opening of a new display in his honor at the Baseball Hall of Fame, home run king Hank Aaron recently observed, “No matter what you accomplish, what you achieve, you don’t go down the path by yourself. I want to thank everyone who helped me along [my] path.”

Young people are the same in that sense — they all need our help. It’s exciting to think how many of them may be future drum corps participants.

The author (right above) marched contra bass with the Madison Scouts and is co-founder of the Rotary Music4Life™ program, along with Richard J. Lee (left) of the Seattle Public Schools.