In a Capitol Hill ceremony attended by musical artists and other advocates for music education, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Randall Reid-Smith, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, were each honored by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), VH1 Save The Music Foundation and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and presented with the SupportMusic Award from NAMM for their leadership of the statewide rebuild of West Virginia music education programs. The awards were presented by NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond, VH1 Save the Music Foundation chairman Tom Calderone, and the students from the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Middle School jazz ensemble.
The honorees were also treated to a rare joint performance by the Shepherdstown Middle School jazz ensemble and advocate-artists former NY Yankee and guitarist Bernie Williams and Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who performed their spirited rendition of St. James Infirmary, a well-known, jazz standard. They started with a trombone solo in the style of early New Orleans jazz, then moved into a more contemporary style arrangement. Singer/songwriter/musician Vanessa Carlton saluted the students and senators with remarks. The Shepherdstown ensemble is a 2012 VH1 Save The Music Foundation grant recipient.
“Not only does playing in a school band help students learn about team work and practice, but playing an instrument also helps them improve their academics and become better students,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller. “VH1 Save The Music Foundation understands the importance of music education in West Virginia’s schools and I greatly appreciate its past and future efforts to bring new instruments to students and help music programs grow. And we can see the results with the students I met with today from the Shepherdstown Middle School Jazz Band, which received instruments from the organization and has since won the state jazz band competition. The students in this band are great kids, and this foundation has helped make it possible for them to learn and excel at an instrument – and it’s happening all across West Virginia. That’s something we can all be proud of.”
The SupportMusic Award presentation took place during NAMM’s annual D.C. Fly-In, during which 30 NAMM members, artists and other leaders of the music instrument and products industry convened to advocate to Congress on the importance of comprehensive music education in the nation’s schools. This year’s Fly-In included special events at the Kennedy Center and the U.S. Capitol, and more than 80 Capitol Hill meetings with congressional leaders.
The issue of music education in schools resonates particularly with music-education advocate and former West Virginia governor, Senator Joe Manchin, who lamented the prevalence of cuts to arts programs in general. “Having access to music education opens so many doors for our children in West Virginia,” Senator Manchin said. “It is unfortunate that every time states face budget cuts, funding for the arts seems to be targeted. The skills our children learn from music and art classes challenge them to think creatively and express themselves. I am so thankful for the extraordinary work VH1’s Save the Music Foundation has accomplished in making sure schools in West Virginia have the resources to provide music education to our kids.”
Sessions were preceded by an issues briefing and training, after which artists and NAMM Members alike hit the halls of the U.S. Capitol and Congressional office buildings to advocate to their representatives about the importance of music education and needed changes to assure access for music learning. During the trip NAMM Members are also trained on developing state-level advocacy efforts for music and arts education that they can take back to their communities in time for school budget season.
Since 2009, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation has given instrumental music education grants to 35 schools in 30 counties throughout West Virginia.