Don Johnson Music Industry Service Award
Examples of life imitating art abound. Rarer still are those occasions when a piece of art inspires real-world actions that literally change lives. But that’s what occurred in 1996, when Michael Kamen undertook a press tour with actor Richard Dreyfuss and director Stephen Herek to promote the film Kamen had just scored, Mr. Holland’s Opus, about a high-school music teacher whose efforts help nurture a generation of aspiring young musicians. On a stop at his alma mater, New York’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Kamen noticed a cage full of broken musical instruments the school didn’t have the funds to repair. He decided, on the spot, to start the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, dedicated to providing students of the nation’s neediest schools with instruments.
Like the fictional Mr. Holland, the late Kamen (who died in 2003) and the foundation’s staff have affected the lives of thousands, dispensing new and repaired saxes and stringed instruments, drums and trumpets and euphoniums to music programs in numerous poor, inner-city schools. Based in Los Angeles, the four-person office is a busy, if lean, operation, daily engaged in raising funds, processing donated instruments and evaluating applications for grants. “I’m the only one here without an assistant,” says executive director Felice Mancini – recipient of this year’s Don Johnson Music Industry Service Award – with a laugh. “I guess if I had a wish, I’d hire someone to just do the fundraising, but I just don’t want to spend money that could go to instruments on another person.” Each year, on average, some 10,000 students benefit from the good work conducted by the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. On a recent afternoon, MMR spoke with Mancini about how this all came about and where it’s headed.
MMR: Let’s start with how you became involved with foundation. When did you join?
Felice Mancini: Michael started the foundation in 1996, and I came here in 1998. There were just two people prior to me. Michael, when he decided to start the foundation, just went to his manager and said, “Do this.” He was a creative type, and that’s how they do it—”Let’s get this going”—but they didn’t really know what it took to start a non-profit organization: You’ve got to raise money. Michael wrote a lot of checks, but you can’t be the sole sustainer of something like this. I’d had some background in fundraising and non-profit, so I was brought in to sort of lead the show. The job took to me and I took to it. The operation has certainly grown; there are four of us, three full-time. Because we’re small and so focused, we’re effective at getting the instruments where they have to be. And, over the years, we’ve really tried to refine our grant process , partly because we get so many people applying. The actual application is on paper, so we have to determine how much of the information they give us can be translated into real life. In the last year, we’ve been doing site visits to all the schools we want to give grants to, to determine their eligibility. We couldn’t really do that before because we didn’t have the budget. Now we can go out and see how what’s on the application matches up; a teacher may ask for something and you look at the rest of the information on the application and you say, “Hmm, does this really make sense? Well, why do you [the teacher] want this instead of this?” We really take a look at what they’re trying to accomplish and what they need for that. Teachers first contact us online [at www.mhopus.org ] and go through a qualification process; based on their answers to a few questions, we tell them, “OK, you can go ahead and do the application.” We get about 2,000 application requests a year, which leads to about 1,000 applications actually submitted. They’re then read and considered, and we wind up working with about 50 schools per year. Our goal is to give to all the qualified schools we can.
MMR: It must be heartbreaking to have to reject a school.
FM: Yes, it is. I write a lot of the grants myself and they don’t all get accepted, but as long as you know why, that’s important. And we try to answer everyone. Someone will say, “Well, why didn’t my school get it?” There’s always an answer, and it’s not because we don’t have the money. It’s just that it’s very competitive and some schools’ people have greater needs. And people can always reapply too. Right now we work only with Title 1 schools, which are those that have the highest amount of students who qualify to receive free lunch from the government. It’s kids from low-income families; we serve those kids whose parents can’t afford to rent their instruments.
MMR: The schools all have to have existing music programs, right?
FM: Yes, the programs have to be at least three years old. As you know, instruments are really expensive, and we can’t give them to a music program that hasn’t proven itself or doesn’t have the support base built up to get enough kids into it. We like to see programs that are already thriving but that just don’t have the budgets, that aren’t given the money to repair instruments or buy new ones. And everyone wants different things: band orchestras, mariachi bands, drum lines, jazz bands, so we’ve given to all sorts of programs. The goal isn’t necessarily to have kids come out of school as musicians; we just want to give them opportunity.
MMR: As explained on the foundation’s site, the idea is to keep kids involved in school, to help at-risk kids stay out of trouble…
FM: Yes. Here in L.A., every other kid who starts school eventually drops out. It’s very bad in urban places, and so a lot of the principals in these areas realize that music is one thing that could keep the kids engaged enough to stay in school, so it is a tool and it definitely helps. They just did a study, in New York, specifically about this, and the graduation rates of students in music and arts programs are higher than for other students.
MMR: Explain a little bit about your fundraising.
FM: Well, we’re doing it all year-round, but seasonally the end of the year is our busiest time because you go for people who might want to get a tax break from donating. There are a lot of businesses that have their own charitable foundations; right now we’re working with Fidelity Investments in Boston, so they have a division that does corporate initiatives and they decided to do some things to get schools involved in music. We also go to corporations in general, and to individual donors. Your goal is a support base of regular people who just write cheeks for $50 or $100; they’re the ones with the real passion for giving.
MMR: What effect has the current bad economy had on fundraising efforts?
FM: I’ve been told it’s having a bad effect elsewhere, but that hasn’t been the case here. The amount we’ve raised from donations hasn’t increased, but it’s been steady, and we haven’t had to cut staff or anything. People continue to make contributions—maybe in smaller amounts, but they’re still sending in checks.
MMR: The grants are not in cash. They’re strictly for instruments, both new and repaired, right?
FM: Yeah. We have a room for instrument inventory, and we also have a bunch of stuff that’s stored. We just got in a huge donation from one arts high school—like 12 pallets of stringed instruments. These were rental instruments that were very gently used, or maybe seconds. They’re playable and presentable. Maybe a quarter of the instruments we give out have been donated and we’ve repaired them, so by and large they’re new. We make sure they look good. I mean, kids don’t want to play on something that looks bad, and we won’t give them that! [laughs].We have people who repair instruments for us; for those who donate, their instrument is appraised and we learn the story behind the instrument. Some of the donated instruments we can’t give to a school, so we’ll put them on eBay; we have a whole page on eBay, and with the money we get from that we buy new instruments.
MMR: Presumably, you must have given instruments to schools in some pretty impoverished neighborhoods.
FM: Well, there was one school, when we worked with the Compton [California] district a couple of years ago, that’s in a pretty gnarly area. But they’re convinced, at the very top level of their district, that music is crucial for their programs, so they’re determined, no matter what their budget constraints, to keep music—because it’s a way of keeping a kids coming to school. There are a lot of kids who are afraid to come to school. At one school near there, Washington Prep in South L.A., one of the teachers said, “I don’t even want to learn the kids’ first names, because I go to too many funerals and I don’t want to get close to them.” On their campus there are eight gangs, which makes even going to school a challenge. Usually when there’s a music department, the kids in the program are like a club, they protect each other. A good teacher is important too. You can go to a bad music class and not want to even be there. The teacher is, for the most part, the one who fills out the application, because it’s their class, and they know what they need. We do have to have a buy-in, too, from the principal. It helps to know that the administration, the parents and all these people are invested in the music program, because then it’s going to survive.
MMR: Who are the other members of your staff, and what are their responsibilities?
FM: Tricia Steel, our Programs Director, has been here 10 years. She works hands-on with all the teachers, the retailers and manufacturers we get our instruments from. She went to Berklee, was a percussion major, and came here part-time, then full-time. Tricia is very knowledgeable about music products, and we’re very tight with NAMM. I think all the retailers we work with are NAMM members. We order a lot of instruments, and it feels good that we can invigorate the industry. It works out all the way around. Deanna Sanchez is our programs assistant, and she works with Tricia. And Natalia Hernandez is our part-time administrator. And I do fundraising.
MMR: What part of the foundation’s mission is unfulfilled? What else might you hope to do someday—say, provide more grants?
FM: Well, we don’t really want to expand the program, or perhaps maybe only a little. Marty Albertson, who’s on our board and is the CEO of Guitar Center, has a real passion for teachers. So one of the things he’s done is, through Guitar Center, fund a teachers award that we do every year. We select five of the best teachers from five different schools, and we do an extra site visit with them—we have a committee that does this—and then we fly them and their spouses to New York, where they get a check for $10,000 from Guitar Center, presented onstage at Carnegie Hall. It’s not really our core mission, but we think it’s important to acknowledge the contributions of teachers, especially the ones who hang in there and kind of sacrifice and rise to the occasion. They engage the kids. You can walk into a music class and you’ll know right away if that teacher is good, just by how the kids are, the looks on their faces, even the way they play. A good teacher can take the same kids and get them to play much better than a weaker teacher. You can draw things out of a kid.
We also have a smaller program, a solo program, the Michael Kamen Solo Award. We don’t offer it all the time. It’s for students who want to pursue music as a career, who really have a gift but can’t afford to buy an instrument to get them to the next level. We’ve given instruments to more than 70 kids through the years with this award. We have to cut back on it sometimes because these are professional or pre-professional instruments that are more expensive than the student model. Let’s say a solo kid who we gave a saxophone to, a professional model, we could buy 10 student-model saxes for that money. So whom do we really want to serve? It really depends; if we’re flush and there’s someone who just wants to donate to the Solo Award program, then we can do it. And these kids we keep track of; they tend to stay in touch, they’ll e-mail us and say, “Guess what I’m doing now?” If you’ve been to our Web site, you may have seen a picture of this kid with a great story: Jermaine, who plays euphonium. He’s this big kid who’s also captain of the school football team, and he just wrote to us and said, “I want to teach music,” and he picked up an instrument that suits him—he’s as big as it is—and he applied because he’d heard about the Solo Award.
MMR: The job sounds like a rewarding one. What’s life like outside the foundation? Are you involved with music there?
FM: Ha, this is my life! [laughs]. Like my [twin] sister Monica, I did a lot of background singing at one time. My mom was a studio singer, and we got our voice from her, not my dad [Henry]. He didn’t sing very well—but he was brilliant otherwise. For some reason, at some point in my life I got tired of the professional singing and I really wanted to do something else. I got involved as a volunteer with another organization, really liked it and got into the whole non-profit world. UCLA has a certification program in non-profit management that I went through. It was a world I loved to be in, so when this opportunity came around, how perfect was this? It was music, which I loved, and it was non-profit, so I could combine both. I’m so lucky that I found this. It is very full-time: I think it, I breathe it. I dream it… If people could find something like this to do, I think the world would be a better place. It’s great to make people happy, to work toward a good purpose.
My dad had already passed away when I started this job. He died in 1994. I started here in ’98. He did a video one year that I didn’t happen to see until after he passed away. I turned it on, and there he is, waxing rhapsodic about music education and how the arts are so important in school. This isn’t stuff we ever talked about, so I didn’t know it until I saw this video, and I thought, “Wow, this was really important to him.” So now the connection to music education feels even better to me.
|Winter 2009Chatham Middle School,
Siler City, NC
Winter 2009, Melody
Cleveland All-City Arts,
Concord Community Music School,
Conrad Ball Middle School,
Eastway Elementary School,
Golden Gate Middle School,
Hosford Middle School,
KIPPDC: KEY Academy,
Lawrence Intermediate School,
Lincoln IB World Junior
Luther Burbank Middle School,
Marie Curie Middle School 158,
Pinnacle Charter School,
Rio Vista Elementary
Underwood GT Magnet
Waverly Middle School,
|Fall 2009Children’s Music Fund,
Toluca Lake, CA
Fall 2009, Special Project
Daniel Webster Middle School,
Detroit Premier Academy,
Fairfax Elementary School,
Francisco Middle School,
Hillview Junior High School,
KIPP Academy New York,
KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy,
KIPP Sharpstown College Prep,
KIPP Ways Academy,
Mariachi Rayos del Sol – Tucson High Magnet School,
Mark Twain Middle School,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pearl Harbor Elementary School,
Pomona High School,
Roland Hayes School of Music,
Roosevelt Middle School,
Rousseau McClellan IPS #91,
San Fernando Middle School,
San Jacinto High School,
Thomas Jefferson High School,
Willowbrook Middle School,
|Summer 2009All City Leadership Academy,
Summer 2009, Melody
Chester Park Elementary
Dogwood Elementary School,
Farnsley Middle School,
Golisano Children’s Hospital/Pediatric Hematology/Oncology,
Grover Cleveland High School,
John H. Reagan High School,
Kickapoo Area School District,
La Pinata: LatinAmercan Cultural Family Network,
Lawrence Elementary School,
Lincoln Public School,
Math Science Technology Prep at Seneca,
North Arvada Middle School,
Northwest School of the Arts,
Piedmont Open IB Middle School,
Red Wing HIgh School,
Red Wing HIgh School,
Sevilla West School Band
South Park High School,
Taft Elementary School,
Taft Elementary School,
White Cloud Junior High and High School,
In the spring of 1998, MMR’s sister publication, School Band & Orchestra (SBO), ran an interview with the late Michael Kamen, noted composer and founder of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. Below is a reprint of highlights from the article.
Bringing Mr. Holland to Life
By now, the name Michael Kamen is pretty much a household word. And to music educators, he’s perhaps even somewhat of a Messiah. Kamen is, after all, saving various school music programs from eternal damnation. Aside from his work with Mr. Holland’s Opus, both the movie’s score and its subsequent Foundation, Michael Kamen the composer has a list of credits that include the soundtracks to Neil Jordan’s three Lethal Weapon films and all three Die Hard movies, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, for which Kamen co-wrote the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).”
For his Flamenco-influenced score for Don Juan DeMarco, he received a Grammy nomination, two Golden Globe nominations, and an Oscar nomination for “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” performed by Bryan Adams, which went on to hit number one on the charts in more than 20 countries.
A native of New York City, Kamen is a graduate from The Julliard School of Music where he studied the oboe. In the late ’60s, he formed the New York Rock ‘n Roll Ensemble, where he wrote, played oboe and piano, sang, and began to work on films and orchestral scores. In his diverse career, Michael Kamen has co-written three number one hit songs, ten ballets, and has collaborated with musical talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Fiedler, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Luciano Pavarotti, the Eurythmics, Bryan Adams, and David Sanborn.
SB&O was able to catch up with Michael Kamen at his London home where he is currently working on the yet-to-be-released score for “The Avengers,” a movie based on a popular television show from the 1960′s. We asked him about his childhood, his musical inspirations, his thoughts on the state of music education, and his advice on how to keep a student interested in music…
SBO: What was it like growing up in the Kamen household?
Michael Kamen: My parents filled our house with music. It was usually great music. We listened to a lot of Bach, Gilbert & Sullivan, listened to a lot of Leadbelly…throw in some Russian folk songs, and American folk songs for good measure. At about age two, I started imitating it all on the piano. My parents, knowing a lot of teachers, always had somebody on hand to guide me. I took piano lessons, started playing guitar, and later took another set of piano lessons from a man named Lewis Carroll who was actually a junior high school orchestra teacher, but I didn’t know that at the time. I spent a dazed youth thinking that the Lewis Carroll was my piano teacher.
SBO: Did you have any musical inspirations as a kid?
MK: My aunt ran musical evenings in her home when I was younger, and there were always string quartets playing Beethoven and Mozart. We listened to Schubert and Schumann, and Bach arias, which made me want to play the oboe because the lines were so incredible.
SBO: What about your music teachers, how did they help?
MK: One very important person in my life was my music teacher at the High School of Music and Art. A man named Morris Lawner. He ran an extracurricular course in composition, which I decided to take since I always wanted to be a composer. The lessons consisted of his playing music for us. I remember many Bach preludes and fugues, and some Brahms intermezzi, which he used to perform all the time as an object lesson in perfect composition. He played so beautifully, and he conveyed his feelings for the music and his knowledge of the music so thoroughly. This man imparted one phrase onto me which is still something that comes into my mind every time I sit down at the piano, and that phrase is simply the word: inevitability. Every musical phrase we invent is the inevitable result of the phrase we invented before it. That is the guiding light I will always use when composing, and for this he became my Mr. Holland.
SBO: Where you aware of the state of music education in this country before the making of Mr. Holland’s Opus?
MK: No I wasn’t. I made an assumption that the system that gave me so much value in my life had been preserved. The teachers would have changed, of course, but there would be new Morris Lawners. At my high school there was a man named Gabe Kosikoff who had been a young teacher there when I was attending the school. He was still at the high school when I went back as part of the press coverage for Mr. Holland’s Opus, and I talked with him. I asked him how things were, fully expecting a positive answer in return, and he replied ‘not so good.’ He started outlining that the board of education, in order to save money, was not hiring new teachers after older ones were retiring, and weren’t being responsive to any calls to change the policy, which was greatly affecting the music curriculum, even in this specialized music high school. Then he walked me up to a room that was used to store broken instruments. He opened the door and there were hundreds of instruments piled on top of each other, unused and unusable. He said that the board of education didn’t give any money for repair, so as the school lost instruments, they lost kids, and as they lost kids they lost teachers, and as they lost teachers, they lost the momentum of the entire system. It suddenly dawned on me that if we were able to walk into a school, we meaning the film community, and offer new instruments and try to figure out a way to make that a sustainable policy, we could strike at the very core of the problem.
SBO: Is the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation meeting your expectations?
MK: No, the expectations are tremendous and the need is even larger. As everybody knows, the problem itself is far deeper and the solutions have been far more complicated than anybody ever imagined. I want an achievable goal and, to that extent, we’ve made a lot of kids happy, but there are going to be several fires that have to be lit simultaneously underneath the collective posteriors of the people who are in charge of getting this thing going. It will need to be activated by concerned parents, concerned teachers and concerned pupils and ex-pupils like myself.
The Foundation itself is a very hard-working board of about 45 people, devoted to the notion that music education is a major investment in the future of our children. They all work in different fields; some are education experts, some are teachers, we have lawyers, and people who are in the music business, all of whom devote and donate their time towards trying to raise money, bring instruments to the schools, and enable the schools to recognize their own power to bring about a fundamental shift in the way things are going in their communities. The list of people that are working with us is very impressive. The only thing that isn’t very impressive at the moment is the size of our bank balance.
SBO: In your opinion, do you see a decline in the quality of music education today?
MK: I don’t have an informed opinion. But my gut instinct tells me there are enough seriously motivated people who adore music that are willing to pass on whatever knowledge we as a society have managed to gain. Kids who really seek out music education find it. They don’t always find it in an academic sense, and they don’t always get the same exposure to the traditions that gave us the music we value as Western music. There is incredible music being made in the inner cities, for example, but it comes out in forms that are deliberately alien. We have a schism in the society of music that doesn’t need to exist. All good music belongs together, and a music teacher’s job is to open kids’ ears and hearts to great music.
SBO: What does a music teacher need to do to keep a kid interested in the school music program?
MK: Teachers have the most effect when they are able to show how much they love the subject that they are trying to connect kids with. Their love of a subject may be formed from the perfect knowledge or just the joy of having music as part of their lives. Music is the one subject that is not so tangible that it needs to be graded. The inspiration that a teacher can provide is their most powerful resource, no matter what the subject is. If they happen to love Mozart, play Mozart and convey how great they think it is. Expose people to this music as a discovery, as a real open door to future involvement. There is no reason to structure music and make it boring.
SBO: On a final note, what kind of motivational message can you give to teachers who are reading this?
MK: The only kind of inspiration I can give them is to feed it back to them. I do work every day from the inspiration that was instilled in me as a kid, and they should take inspiration from the recognition of that power. They can really change lives.