As public school districts across the country try to stretch insufficient funding as far as possible, the sad reality is that valuable programs such as arts and music will be sacrificed. But the story doesn’t have to end there, at least not if people like David Wish are around.
Ten years ago, Wish was a first-grade teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Upset that his school didn’t offer music education, he decided to do something about it. “I took matters into my own hands and started giving free classes after school for my class,” said Wish. “I just wanted to bring music into the lives of 30 first graders.” Soon, more kids wanted to take the lessons, and eventually, Wish needed to enlist the help of fellow teachers just to keep up with the demand. “I could see the impact immediately in the way the kids carried themselves, the ways that they expressed themselves, and the ways they connected to school,” said Wish. “That’s what motivated me.”
Those first classes inspired Wish to expand his idea even further, and the result was a grassroots organization called Little Kids Rock, which offers free lesson plans and instruments to schools with low income students. Ten years in, more than 1,300 public school teachers have used the program in their schools, reaching more than 200,000 kids who otherwise would not have received music education.
The key to Little Kids Rock’s success is its approach. “We teach kids to play the music that interests them, and we approach it non-notationally, at least at first,” said Wish. “When you teach people to play by reading music, it is a mathematical approach. In math, there is usually one right answer and an infinite number of wrong answers. However, when you teach music as a language, there are many, many right answers, and making music becomes easier and less intimidating.”
And the key to the program’s longevity has been the gracious support of celebrity sponsors including music icons Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Slash, B.B. King, Ziggy Marley, and many others. “Upon hearing our kids, people wanted to get involved,” said Wish. “I know that sounds so simple, but it’s true. Once artists come out to see our kids, once they got to see the joy in their faces first hand, and once they get to play with them and make music, they tell their other musician friends. Our artist outreach is all word of mouth.”