Although the NAMM Advocacy Fly-In could not take place in Washington, D.C., this year, the trade group kept spirits high during a June 16 virtual event.

Unfortunately, NAMM had to cancel its annual Advocacy Fly-In, one of its most memorable events of the year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the trade group wanted to make sure it did not skip the event entirely and simply wait for its return to Washington, D.C., in May 2021. So, NAMM on June 16 hosted a virtual advocacy event instead. Although it is difficult to replicate in-person visits to Capitol Hill, having lunch in the U.S. Capitol, and enjoying the nighttime entertainment and camaraderie among attendees the Fly-In provides, the four-hour digital event was about as good as it gets for something that only required delegates to log on to computers from their respective living rooms.

NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond remarked that, although the world has been turned upside down in 2020, that does not mean NAMM members cannot continue to make a big difference. “Who would have thought when we gathered at The NAMM Show in January that it would look so different in June? You are all dealing with challenges in your life we could have never conceived of,” he said. “…What we are doing today could be as powerful or more powerful than before.”

While COVID-19 continues to provide unfortunate challenges, Lamond made sure to stress how impressed he is by today’s advocacy efforts. “We are everyday people getting things done,” he remarked. “I am humbled.”

Intense challenges also provide opportunities, Lamond added. “Big opportunities happen at times of disruption,” he said. “…Now is the time when big things get done.”

Mackie V. Spradley, president of the National Association for Music Education (NAfMe), also stressed the opportunities presenting themselves today. “I believe this is a unique opportunity. The door is wide open,” she said. “We are now empowered with a voice to be change agents.”

Added William Pelto, executive director, The College Music Society, “This is an opportunity. We need to be very aware that not all students have the technology that applies to learning. This could be the tipping point that allows us to move more quickly and nimbly.”

Gil Parris (left) and Bernie Williams provided a virtual performance.

This does not mean making changes will be easy, though. Chris Martin, NAMM chairman and CEO of C.F. Martin, noted, “Our job is to get Congress unstuck. Particularly the Senate.”

Martin also brought up a crucial theme that many other Zoom panelists picked up on throughout the advocacy event: The 2020-2021 school year could be the most important ever for students. In fact, Lynn Tuttle, director of public policy, research and development for the National Association for Music Education, and David Dik, national executive director for Young Audiences, Arts for Learning, talked about this topic in depth.

“Not all students may be allowed at school at the same time,” said Tuttle. “And large [music] assemblies are unlikely.”

Do not expect school budgets to help either, Tuttle added.

Tax revenues have decreased from between five percent in “lucky” areas up to 25 percent in less-fortunate locations, said Tuttle. “Constitutionally, the budget must be balanced,” she said. “Music programs could be cut.”

Tuttle and Dik presented a slide to further explain what the top challenges and considerations are for the upcoming school year. They are:

  • Multiple possibilities forschool openings this fall
  • Restricted access for supplemental instructors in the schoolbuilding
  • Safety and health concerns and social distancing impacts for traditional models
  • Curtailment of out-of-school and informal musical activities
  • Uncertainty in the foundation and individual contribution sector

This means delegates must work harder, but those in the MI industry must remember what Tuttle said: “We are essential to the students we teach. Begin the work now. Our students depend on us.”

Regarding how to provide assistance, Tuttle asked delegates to simply ask of politicians, “How can I help?”

Back to school was also stressed by West Music’s Robin Walenta, former chairwoman of NAMM. “What back to school will look like is advocacy,” she said. “What conversations need to happen now?”

Walenta advised that during these conversations with elected officials, NAMM delegates should:

  • Discuss all contingencies
  • Offer your assistance anywhere and everywhere
  • Discuss the logistics of back to school. How will schedules be made, and how will kids function in a school building? What is the financial implication of that?

A look at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.

The ‘Ask’

Although NAMM delegates may not be able to have face-to-face meetings, each year at the Advocacy Fly-In, there is an “ask,” to be done, typically via email. First, NAMM defined why advocacy is so important, as was presented in a slide: “Research  findings demonstrate that music students do better in English, math and science than their peers without music education, and more music and arts education is linked with fewer dropouts and suspensions. The social and emotional benefits of music education have become even more evident during the current pandemic,” NAMM stated.

The main ask this year is to ask members of Congress to fully fund the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Title IV, Part A, which is authorized for $1.65 billion, but currently appropriated at $1.2 billion. Hence, an extra $450 million is being requested.

NAMM delegate work, however, has made a huge difference. Thanks to their work, the appropriated figure has risen by $800 million in the past three years.

Also on the plus side, panelists stressed that music and arts education is a bipartisan issue. “Nobody is against music and arts education,” asserted recently retired lobbyist Leo Coco of the firm Nelson Mullins. “It is finding people who will champion it.”

The best way to get politicians’ attention is having a great story to tell, relayed Chris Cushing, managing director, Federal Strategies Team, Nelson Mullins. “Advocacy makes a difference,” he said. “… Do you have a story to tell? We know over a decade and a half [of NAMM Fly-Ins] that we have a great story. How do we know that? Because it works.”

Added Connie Myers, policy advisor for Nelson Mullins, a great way to get a politician’s attention is simply being a constituent when sending emails. “Being a constituent matters,” she said. “[Politicians] care about you. You rise to the top of the list.”

When contacting members of Congress, here are the specific “asks” as presented by Cushing and Myers:

  • We ask Congress to enact additional funding directly to states to replace revenue and address K-12 education budget shortfalls.
  • We urge Congress to support full funding in fiscal-year 2021 Education Appropriations for ESSA’s Title IV Part A at its authorized level of $1.65 billion to ensure that the well-rounded education goals of ESSA are realized for every child.
  • We ask Congress to support ESSA’s Title I funding for our nation’s most vulnerable students and Title II funding that promotes the effectiveness of our teachers.
  • We urge ongoing support for our national arts and culture organizations, such as The National Endowment for the Arts, which provides competitive grants in every state and congressional district. Cushing and Myers also presented an “ask” of state governors. These are:
  • We ask governors and state education officials to utilize ESSA’s SSAEGs (Title IV) and other federal programs to create and expand music programs; a survey of the current school year yielded a three-fold increase of districts reporting use of Title IV funds for well-rounded music education offerings.
  • We request governors’ sustained commitment and support for quality music education as an essential learning force that must be available to all students.
  • We offer to be a resource to governors and state and local education officials in the development of policies and best practices for music instruction.

Beyond the ask, partnerships and alliances manager for Yamaha Corp. of America David Jewell and recording star J. Dash offered additional advice based upon their personal advocacy experiences. “My first Fly-In was 2013,” recalled Jewell. “It changed my life. You can make a definite impact.”

When contacting politicians, Jewell suggested a simple way to help break the ice. “Invite [members of] Congress and Senators to your space,” Jewell said. “[I found] they had no idea what [Yamaha] did. If you have a concert or event, invite your local member of Congress. You can get them in your corner and get to know every [staff member’s] first names.”

  1. Dash also recalled his first time attending the Fly-In and that it “opened my world. That is an understatement.”

Initially, J. Dash wondered what power he had as one person to make a difference. The answer was a lot. “We have a voice,” he said. “But the first step is always the hardest. … We are all superheroes that have the power in us to make a change. … I can almost guarantee you can exceed your own expectations.”

Jewell stressed the need to keep music at the forefront as the world sees significant change. “It is important to keep music at the forefront in the ‘new normal.’ … If you are not at the table, you are on the menu,” he said. “One person can make a big difference. Take that step and be at the table.”

West Music’s Robin Walenta (left) took to Capitol Hill last year to advocate for music education.

Fly-In Reminiscing

Although much of the virtual Fly-In featured talk about the future of music education, there was also a look at the past with Coco. He recalled the first 15 NAMM Advocacy Fly-Ins, as well as some of the best moments. “I remember the first Fly-In in 2005. There were only a handful of delegates,” he stated. “We had a reception at the 9:30 Club [in Washington, D.C.]. The Commodores were there and so were three “American Idol” finalists. That show was huge at the time. More than their great performances, each talked about the importance of music in their lives. That was really powerful.” Former U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey was the first “champion” of music education, stated Coco. “She was a big advocate,” Coco said of Woolsey, D-Calif., who served the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2013. “She [even] proposed a music grant program.”

As for celebrities, Coco pointed to three big names who were especially powerful in helping music’s cause: Tony Bennett, The Blue Man Group and Bernie Williams. He vividly recalled Bennett, the “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” crooner, on hand to meet California’s Nancy Pelosi, now the U.S. House Majority Leader. “Nancy Pelosi’s plane was late, but she really wanted to meet Tony Bennett. She said how important the meeting was,” Coco recalled.

The Blue Man Group was powerful in a different way. “When they are in costume, they cannot speak, so I thought How is this going to work? But everyone knew who they were and had a great sense of humor. [U.S. Sen.] Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., especially had a great sense of humor when we went to visit him,” recalled Coco.

Most delegates can point to many memorable experiences at NAMM Fly-Ins involving Bernie Williams, since he first started attending Capitol Hill meetings 10 years ago. But Coco specifically remembered one: “He performed ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ in the Mansfield Room [located in the U.S. Capitol]. There was not a dry eye after that performance.”

The event also featured performances from Williams and Gil Parris, J. Dash, NAMM’s Zach Phillips, Benedetto Guitars’ Howard Paul, artist Maggie Evans and cellist Ifetayo AliLanding.

“It is one of the highlight of the year for me,” concluded Williams, referring to his annual NAMM Fly-In experiences.

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