Artist Keynote Highlights from the Virtual Modern Band Summit

Mike Lawson • Modern Band • July 31, 2020

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This past July, Little Kids Rock hosted its first ever Virtual Modern Band Summit, an online conference featuring over 30 breakout sessions, 20 small group discussions, and other great opportunities for professional learning. Chief among these were the four artist keynotes, given by influential popular musicians from the past four decades.

Brian Hardgroove, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Steven Van Zandt, and Linda Perry each talked with teachers about a broad range of topics, including their views on the music industry, their past struggles and successes, and current challenges introduced by the current global pandemic, as well as their parts in the fight for social justice and equity for all.

Linda Perry: Songwriting Hall of Fame inductee, member of rock group 4 Non Blondes

“I still honestly don’t understand the songwriting process. I only know like, how to just close my eyes and get in touch with my emotion. It’s not listening to this and listening to that and making my move. It’s about feeling out how I’m doing. So when people run around with songwriters block, I always tell them ‘well, then just stop thinking about writing a song and just write the song.’ But in order to do that, you have to be very free. You have to feel, you have to be in a very vulnerable state and who knows what’s going to come out of your mouth.

“If we can teach the kids to be emotionally more open, then you’ll start realizing that that’s when the teacher becomes the therapist. That’s when the teacher becomes the true mentor. The teacher becomes the teacher, the professor that is helping these kids with emotional problems. That’s where the song comes from.”

Darryl McDaniels: a.k.a. “DMC,” member of influential rap group RUN-D.M.C.

“(In 1993) everybody was giving us love. We’re getting money. We own the radio. We own MTV. And I was depressed. I don’t know what it was. I did some soul searching. I was like, hold on, hold on. Why am I feeling like this? I was a metaphysical, spiritual, religious, depressed mental wreck, but I’m going through the motions. I’m on the stage, flying and touring, and I’m on the tour bus, but I really wasn’t there.

“I found out this wonderful thing called therapy, talking about how I feel, whether good or bad. That’s what people don’t know. It feels great to talk about how bad you feel, because you’re letting it out of you. You shouldn’t eat it. When you feel bad, you shouldn’t run from it. You should talk about what’s making you feel that way. . .I’ve been in therapy and I stay with it because that’s the power and excitement that you need to use to heal yourself. And when I speak like that, it makes other people not be afraid to say ‘me too.’”

Steven Van Zandt: Musician, performer, songwriter, arranger, actor, founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and founder of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation

On Teach Rock, the curriculum for the Rock And Roll Forever Foundation:

“We need to give [students] something they can use, what I call ‘teaching in the present tense.’ Let’s go to them. Let’s not drag them to our methodology. Let’s go to them. Who are your favorite artists? Everybody has a favorite artist. And we say, okay, let’s trace them back. Beyoncé? Well, Beyoncé, she comes from a woman named Aretha Franklin, and Aretha Franklin, by the way, comes out of the gospel church. So we talk about the church, she comes from Detroit, we’re talking about Detroit. She was involved with the civil rights movement. Let’s talk about civil rights a little bit. And the kids stay completely engaged. Why? Because we’re on comfortable ground with them. You know? And that’s the thing about the arts. The arts are comfortable ground for kids who are not necessarily comfortable with the education process.”

Brian Hardgroove: Record producer, bassist, drummer, and member of influential rap group Public Enemy

“I was on the first wave of a forced busing in New York City. And the experiences were fairly traumatic, but there were a couple of instructors, my film and music instructors particularly, who helped me and a lot of my friends through it. And they kept our curiosity alive and kept our humanity protected. So from personal experience, I understand exactly where instructors like yourself sit in the lives of children.

“It’s become an issue for a lot of organizations and teachers, the issue of how to address these things [social justice] with kids, because you can’t ignore an elephant in the room. . . And I’m here to say for those of you who are struggling with how to discuss this with students, whether you’re black or not, you really should understand that you have a leg up in this conversation. the leg up in discussing race is the fact that they’re in front of you willingly. And the reason why I know you know what to say is because I give you the same humanity that I have. If I see an injustice, I know what to say.

“Every kid has a possibility to do something that impacts not only the generation that they’re going to be living in, but the generations that, that preceded them.”

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