Top Musicians Are Composing Own Curricula

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 17, 2007

The problem with music education in U.S. public schools, some musicians say, isn't that there's not enough of it but that there's not enough of the right kind.

That's why Steven Van Zandt, lead guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, is starting what he calls an unprecedented project to change music education in schools across the country through rock-and-roll.

"We had the wonderful opportunity to see rock-and-roll being born, and we grew up with it," said Van Zandt, 57.

"It opened up my intellectual and emotional life," he said on a recent trip to Washington to launch Little Steven's Rock and Roll High School, a music education program designed to trace the history of rock and highlight its cultural impact. "We want to make sure that opportunity is passed along to the next generation and generations to come."

Van Zandt said his program, which is being written with help from the National Association of Music Education, is different from other music programs. Traditional music education emphasizes chorus, marching band and orchestra. His curriculum would teach students about U.S. history through music they appreciate.

"Rock-and-roll is a uniquely American art form," he said. "We receive emotional information as well as intellectual information from it."

Music producer Quincy Jones agrees. U.S. students, he said, are rarely taught the history of their own music, adding that Europeans, Japanese and others around the globe "know more about our music than we do."

"Our schools have an obligation," he said. "The culture is the soul of a country, and they aren't teaching the music which has helped mold the culture."

Jones, who created the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, a charity that connects students with technology, education, culture and music, said he would like to see every school in the nation teach students about culture using both music and sociology. They would learn about the history of jazz and blues and how one artist and genre influenced another.

"How did Stravinsky influence Debussy?" said Jones, who also writes a column for the music education magazine Music Alive!

"Who did Debussy influence? What is the difference between classical and other forms of music?"

They would also learn how to play modern forms of music, including hip-hop. "Have a marching band play hip-hop," he said. "Let's experiment."

-- Valerie Strauss

© 2007 The Washington Post Company