Dealers, Manufacturers Unite To Trumpet Message Of Music
By Dan Ferrisi
One of the great things about living in a representative democracy is the fact that those whom we elect to serve our interests are ultimately accountable to the people; this gives us, as citizens, the right to go to Capitol Hill and demand to be heard. Certainly, multinational corporations and moneyed interests have their say, but the great equalizing force that is direct access to our representatives serves all of us well, including music products industry members. Realizing the power wielded by passionate, informed exponents, NAMM once again organized its Advocacy Fly-In to Washington DC, which, this year, occurred from March 26 through March 29; more than 30 delegates, including this writer, joined together to share our message.
The ultimate goal of our Capitol Hill meetings was to advocate for, and be expositors of, music making and the benefits it can present: a critical cause for music products retailers not only today but also, and perhaps even more importantly, decades into the future. This required us to understand the nexus of government policymaking power and children’s exposure to high-quality music education. Thus, in the two days prior to our official meetings, the delegates—under the tutelage of Leo Coco, Senior Policy Advisor and Connie Myers, Government Relations Consultant, both of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, as well as Jim Goldberg of Goldberg and Associates—learned the details of the message, in addition to how best to convey it.
Although, indisputably, there are numerous issues with which music products manufacturers and retailers must currently contend, ranging from the encroachment of Internet-based sales to rampant problems pertaining to counterfeiting to continuing uncertainties vis-à-vis The Lacey Act, our delegation’s principal concern and area of advocacy was the reauthorization of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It was enacted on April 11, 1965, under President Lyndon Johnson; originally authorized for a five-year period, ESEA has been continually reauthorized over the intervening years, sometimes with a new appellation, such as President Clinton’s Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. No Child Left Behind expired in 2007 and, ever since, it has been pending reauthorization, with both parties at loggerheads with respect to what changes should be made to improve it.
NAMM is, of course, an indefatigable supporter of music education in the public schools—in particular, music classes that are led by a certified instructor and are taught in a sequential format—and the organization strongly supports ESEA reauthorization. Under the act’s existing language, music and arts fall under the key “core academic subjects” heading, helping to facilitate children’s access to such programs. The delegation sought to make sure that any ESEA reauthorization maintains music and arts education as core—alongside English, math, science and other areas—and recognizes its role in a well-rounded education. Additionally, the delegation voiced its support for Title I and Title II appropriations being available to fund music and arts programs. The group supported states having the flexibility to use their education dollars to fund music programs in their local school districts, free from any restrictions that might preclude funds from being so directed.
Even with music and arts being among the core academic subjects under ESEA as currently formulated, there are many criticisms of the act; under its “No Child Left Behind” rebranding, it has become a generally agreed-upon conclusion that test scores have been overemphasized, leading both to a teach-to-the-test mentality, which is anathema to the kind of well-rounded, holistic approach that NAMM favors, and to the establishment of essentially unattainable proficiency requirements. So, although NAMM and its group of delegates is unyielding in its desire to see ESEA reauthorized, it also recognizes that substantial changes can and must be made in service of our youth getting a full-spectrum education that prepares them for a world in which creativity, innovativeness and imagination are prized commodities. Also impressed upon our group was music’s value in student retention, fostering a desire to be in school each day and, perhaps relatedly, improved test scores.
The organizers from NAMM, namely Mary Luehrsen, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations and President/CEO Joe Lamond, created a jam-packed schedule of events for those in attendance, who included numerous music products retailers as well as manufacturers such as D’Addario & Company and Taylor Guitars. It all kicked off on the evening of Monday, March 26, when, after an initial gathering and greeting, the group enjoyed a reception and dinner at which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) spoke and Dr. Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director of The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was honored. Speaking personally as a member of the delegation, the passion for the cause and camaraderie of the group created a wonderful atmosphere.
The next day, March 27, was an extremely busy one, packed with preparation for the meetings the following day. After opening remarks from organizers, the first discussion, “Shifting Dynamics Among Federal, State and Local Education Policymakers and Stakeholders,” commenced, featuring panelists Richard W. Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education; Margaret Horn of Achieve; Kelly Pollitt, Director of Advocacy and Policy, National Association of Elementary School Principals; and Jim Kohlmoos, Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education. This was followed by the group’s shuttling to the U.S. Department of Education to meet with Melanie Anderson, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Planning and Evaluation; current Education Secretary Arne Duncan briefly joined the discussion.
Upon our return to home base, additional briefings took place, covering everything from music education to The Lacey Act, and online piracy and anti-counterfeiting efforts to arts advocacy during the 2012 national political conventions. Later that day, Kevin Cranley, Chairman of NAMM’s Executive Committee, introduced Chris Woodside, Assistant Executive Director in the Center for Advocacy and Public Affairs, National Association for Music Education (NAfME), who outlined the strength and depth of NAMM’s partnership with NAfME. And, after that, well-known reporter Christina Bellantoni, Political Editor with the PBS NewsHour, shared with the group a political outlook for 2012 and beyond. Only after all of this preparation and discussion were we ready to share our message with members of Congress.
Given the size of our group, the delegation was divided into several teams, organized by states and geographic regions, in order to facilitate speaking to as many people as possible, while also, of course, recognizing the influence a representative or senator’s actual constituent can have. From the House of Representatives, this writer met with staffers from the offices of Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) and Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), as well as with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). From the Senate, this writer conversed with staff for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Although the above-mentioned group covers the ideological spectrum in left versus right terms, all of them expressed support for music programs in our public schools, although their views about ESEA reauthorization in general—and, more specifically, how best to fix the act moving forward—were considerably divergent. A refrain heard more than once was that, in an election year, it is very unlikely that anything major—be it ESEA reauthorization, comprehensive immigration reform or, really, anything else—will be accomplished by the legislative branch.
According to Mark Despotakis, Director of Market Development, Progressive Music, “Being on the Hill is a real lesson in politics. You really get a sense of why things happen (and don’t happen) at the federal legislation level.” He continued, “I left all of our meetings feeling very optimistic, because we generally receive a warm reception when we talk about the value of music education. However, I realize the politics of the situation, especially in an election year. I think that NAMM being on Capitol Hill is very important. And, just by being there, we’re playing a role in the discussions about the future of education in our nation.”
Becky Pritchard, President/Director of Music Education and Joe Pritchard, Vice President/Director of Retail Operations, both of Pritchard Music Academy, were equally optimistic, saying, “Almost everyone we spoke to on Capitol Hill was very supportive of music education as part of the core curriculum.” They added, “And, they become even more supportive when they realize that we are not asking for additional funding…just the flexibility for the school systems to use the funding already allocated for music programs. Then, when you add the statistics that show what studying music does for a student’s overall academic development, the support strengthens.” In what could only be perceived as a positive development, they added, “We did hear that there might be some movement in a lame-duck session as a way of leaving a legacy, or early in the new congress as a way of showing that the two sides can work together on what should be a bipartisan issue.”
Discussing the importance of the issues raised during the Fly-In, Brian Reardon, Owner of Monster Music, stated, “All manufacturers and retailers should be advocating on behalf of an ESEA reauthorization that keeps music education as a core subject, and doesn’t only measure results in math/English, which, of late, has caused the real unintended consequence of districts across the country cutting music programs.” And, personalizing it a bit, Reardon also alluded to the mind sharing that occurs when one is rubbing elbows with some of our industry’s best and brightest. He said, “While it is difficult to be away from my shop for a few days, the intimate connection that I get to our industry’s best minds makes it an event that no one should stay away from….”
Tiffany Radovich underscores Reardon’s point, mentioning how resonant a comment made by Hal Leonard President Larry Morton during the Fly-In was with her. She recounted, “The music products industry is uniquely entrenched in music education. Many people in our industry will tell you that their local music teachers are some of their closest friends. We don’t just need each other; we share a passion.” She continued, “Their students are our students, many of whom represent the next generation of music. We attend their concerts [and] deliver supplies and services to their schools…. We hire retired music teachers, publish their books and ask them to help us design products. We’re not just partners in music education, but also the results of a music education. The people of our industry have more than just a responsibility to advocate: We have the need to.”
It is this writer’s hope, and the hope of many who attended the Fly-In, that future trips to Washington DC will draw an even larger contingent of our industry’s members to share their voice; the more people there are, all speaking in a unified voice, the better it is for all of us. Michael J. Canning, President, Cadon Technical Sales Co., pithily said, “I decided that it was time I actually did something to be part of the solution instead of sitting around just talking about the problem.” Art Livingston, President, Marlo Plastic Products, Inc., added, “Simply put, silence is not our friend. Our elected officials do listen to their constituents, so involvement does make a difference. ESEA includes the arts as a part of the core curriculum, and it needs to be defended.” And, quite simply, advocacy on these issues just makes sense, as Chalise Zolezzi, Public Relations Manager, Taylor Guitars, stated: “By encouraging music education, we’re building new customers for the present and the future.”
The point is made artfully by John D’Addario III, Executive Vice President, D’Addario & Company, who personalized his inspiration to attend the Fly-In, citing his father and his children. “I have always admired how much my father has given back to the industry,” he explained. “He taught me that it is a privilege to be working in this industry, and our family should always take a responsibility in helping to nurture and grow it. Additionally, in witnessing my children grow and learn, I would like nothing less than a well-rounded education experience that music and arts provide.” He added, “I can’t imagine them or any children being denied this opportunity. The 2012 NAMM Fly-In was an invigorating experience and I hope to participate again in years to come.”
It is, perhaps, appropriate to close with comments from Kevin Cranley, who took a leading role over the course of the Fly-In. He observed, “The reason this is so vitally important is that, with the signing of one bill or amendment, the future of our industry can be impacted greatly. If music is minimized or not listed as a core subject, every NAMM member will be impacted.”
He continued, “Studies have shown that a vast majority of all musicians received their introduction to music through school music programs. If a child is never introduced to music or simply has a bad music experience, the odds are he or she will never play later in life; that is a tragedy. The industry is made up of many segments, and that diversity is a strength. But, when a segment such as school music products is damaged, the impact would be felt by all.”
He concluded with a passionate plea: “I have been involved in the NAMM Fly-In six times now, and I always walk away having learned something. It’s a great experience that I would encourage every NAMM member to try.”
So, I urge you: speak up…lend your voice.
You might be surprised by just how big a difference you can make, and how good you will feel for having done so.