In the U.S. Capitol Mansfield Room, a portrait of George Washington hung. Food and wine were flowing. NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond introduced the crowd to two days of preparation and lobbying on Capitol Hill. The lobbying focused on two things: Having the word "music" appear in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (SEA)—expected to be voted upon this year—instead of just the word "arts," which many feel is too vague. The other focus was on intellectual property. Specifically, we're talking about the counterfeiting problem. (We're going to focus on the No Child Left Behind efforts. Those are the sessions we attended. Also, we have written heavily about intellectual property in the past few months, including many efforts put forth by Jim D'Addario.)
After thanking everyone for attending, Lamond presented NAMM's new vision statement. "We envision a world in which the joy of making music is a precious element of daily living for everyone. A world in which every child has a deep desire to learn music and a recognized right to be taught. And in which every adult is a passionate champion and defender of that right."
Now, it was time to get that message out to politicians and, ultimately, the public. Said Lamond, "If you saw Saturday Night Live on May 7, Seth Meyers said something to the effect of: 'On Monday, thousands of American kids sang the song, 'I Wanna Play,' during Music Monday. At the same time, billions of kids in China did.' It was in good humor. But it does illustrate the challenge we're facing. Nobody is really against music. But we keep hearing from politicians that there are so many fish to fry. I say, 'We want to be part of the education solution.' We have something powerful here. We have something that prevents them from dropping out. Something that helps them develop their brains. Something that helps them succeed in other subjects. It leads to development of creativity, innovation and teamwork skills. Exactly the things people need to bring to the 21st century workplace."
Certainly, one person behind music and arts education remaining in schools is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although Duncan could not attend a drum circle the morning of May 10, Peter Cunningham, one of his right-hand men, did attend. Cunningham said his office was behind NAMM's advocacy efforts 150 percent. "We want to make sure America embraces the benefits of a well-rounded education," said Cunningham. "Kids need to learn in a lot of different ways. We're here to join you in playing a couple of songs and join you in advocating an arts education."
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley is another huge backer. He attended all NAMM events and made many congressional visits on behalf of NAMM.
Celebrities joined the effort, as well. "It's not every day I get to speak from a podium," joked Gavin DeGraw during a May 11 press conference. "I'm proud to be part of a political movement for something I think is so naturally right. I don't think any of us disagree that math and science are important. But there's a cultural element missing in math and science that music provides. Music elevates your intelligence and ability to process certain things. There's a great social and cultural element to music that somehow is not being seen. When I meet people, I don't talk about math with them. When I'm on the train, I don't say, 'Hey, what math books are you reading?' Or, 'Hey, I was thinking about science today. You're pretty. I was wondering if we can go the science section of the store.' You want to go listen to music with somebody. Or go to a movie that has great music at critical moments. I look at music from a different aspect. I focus on the social and cultural aspect. Those are worth preserving."
"It was one of the greatest days of my life speaking with members of Congress and staff members," said former New York Yankees great and current guitarist Bernie Williams. "It was interesting to talk to them about my life story and how it has incorporated music. Music had a tremendous impact on my life from a very early age. Everyone knows I was a baseball player. My dad taught me a couple of chords when I was 7 years old. I immediately made a connection to music. Later, I had the chance to participate in performing arts in high school in Puerto Rico. That's when my love for music grew even more. In retrospect, music helped me with many things, including pressure situations, like this one. [Laughs] It really did help me overcome adversity….I'm a great example of how music can help. I believe every child should have access to playing an instrument."
"Music and the arts made such a strong impression on me," said Tony Bennett. "Music provided the foundation for my entire life. It may be a wild dream, but my wife and I hope that every public school can have an arts program. It would be the best thing that ever happened to the United States, because it provides the presence for truth and unity."
"The best way to sum up what everyone said is we are great people, a great nation and we can accomplish anything," said Lamond. "We're in a place where we can get it done. Let's finish this."
Let's Form a Strategy
May 10 was what could be termed strategy day, settling what exactly should be pitched to politicians, and what was pitched held a strong emphasis. "We're asking members of Congress to support the key principles of a well-rounded education," said Leo Coco, senior policy advisor at Nelson Mullins. "A second thing to discuss is very important for us to talk about. There's a lot of excitement about integrating the arts into school curricula. There are compelling stories with good data to show how important music is. It can benefit kids' lives."
"We need to make sure music and arts are clearly stated in the reauthorization," said Lamond. "We need a clarification to ensure funds can be used more clearly for music and arts programs. That's why we're here. That's our message."
"This will be a nice victory for our industry and a nice victory for kids, who will hopefully have a better chance of having music programs in their schools," he continued.
"We definitely have the support of [politicians]," said Tom Schmitt, NAMM chairman. "But, at the same time, times are tough out there. There are all kinds of competing priorities. That's exactly why we really need to be here pounding [the table] with our issues. If we're not doing that, other people are. We have twice as many people with us as we had here four years ago. For a lot of kids, music is what keeps them coming to school. Music education should be mandatory, core curriculum for every kid in America. In our country, we are systematically denying kids access to music. I don't think it's intentional. It's happening because music is not a tested subject."
Let's Have Some Fun
Although not specifically music-related, many NAMM delegates most enjoyed a guest speaker the day before they ventured to Capitol Hill. Steve Schmidt, who was senior campaign strategist and advisor to John McCain's 2008 campaign, provided plenty of humor about the 2012 presidential election. He began by providing advice for Donald Trump. "Shave your head. It's time. It has worked for many people, including me and Michael Jordan." Trump announced he would not run for president days later.
Schmidt handicapped next year's race on the Republican side. He offered several names who could be top candidates, including Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. One name he did not mention was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a huge music advocate. When asked, he said he wasn't sure Huckabee would enter the race. Huckabee in fact announced he also would not run days later.
Schmidt was also asked about what process led to the choice of Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate. Schmidt responded that Palin had the best approval rating of any governor in the United States. At that time, well over 70 percent approved of the job she was doing in Alaska.
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