Modern Band Rockfest

Mike Lawson • Performance • September 8, 2016

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SBO Goes to Modern Band Rockfest and Symposium 2016

Ft. Collins, Colorado isn’t exactly the easiest-to-reach destination. First, it’s almost always a flight through Denver International Airport, which is super busy, full of late running arrivals and departures, and hosts all of its car rental locations miles away where even the most affordable of rental cars from the least national branded companies still run you $75-120 a day. Once you get through the flight, the shuttle to the car rental location and the then sometimes impossibly long lines to get your car, it’s another hour or so north to reach Ft. Collins. To put it mildly, it’s a long day, and a real commitment, to make the journey to Ft. Collins. Sure, I guess you can take a cheaper shuttle service, but who has that kind of time?

I’ll tell you who made the time: hundreds of public school music teachers, higher education leaders, and public school district arts supervisors from across the United States who again convened at Colorado State University, Fort Collins for this annual event.

I bring this travel-to-destination hassle up because the key word in that opener is “commitment.” This is clearly what the new and returning attendees to the Modern Band Rockfest and Symposium 2016 conference, hosted by Little Kids Rock, had made to the implementation of “modern band” into their school music programs. The event features a week-long conference schedule that began July 19th and was jam-packed full of training and seminar options most middle and high school teachers will not ever find themselves exposed to elsewhere, at the state “MEA” level or even in most other traditional national conferences.

Throughout the week participants learned not only more about the various instruments used in the modern band curriculum and programming, how to play them, et cetera, but they dove head first into workshops on songwriting, and even improving stage presence. Over 30 teacher and professional artist-led workshops were offered “including drumming with Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice, hip-hop bass with Public Enemy’s Brian Hardgroove, ukulele technique with Hawaii’s own Paula Fuga, and Saturday Night Live’s Beehive Queen Christine Ohlman on vocal stylings.”

The Little Kids Rock produced Modern Band Rockfest and Symposium is a one-of-a-kind experience. Teachers from all over the country came in to participate. Many of them came as part of a district-wide rollout, representing their districts or from across a common state, but many others paid their own way to be here because they believe in the mission and have rolled out a Modern Band program in their school. There really is no other place for them to get training, and gain the comradery that comes from gathering with like-minded educators with a singular goal of changing how music is taught in today’s schools. The excitement from the participants is, in a word, infectious, and it rolls out into the evening activities long after the day’s seminars and workshops are over.

My first day in town, I attended the packed-to-capacity reception at The Armory, graciously hosted again by the wonderful Bohemian Foundation, a Colorado non-profit that has given so much support to music in their communities, but also to Little Kids Rock through the years, enabling them to produce this massive event. That evening, I heard attending teachers performing in pre-rehearsed groups representing their cities and states of origin, putting out some pretty rocking performances of classic rock, R&B and other music. It was, well, kind of surreal to be in a room full of music teachers and see them rocking out to the LKR-led “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. I remember getting sent to the office for bringing that album to school. My, how times have changed!

The 2016 Modern Band Rockfest grew again this year, with nearly 300 music teachers, arts administrators, and higher education leaders present to take part in the week of training and events. Music educators and their colleagues came from California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. Higher education was also represented through Ithaca College, Berklee College of Music, California State University, USC’s Thornton School of Music, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, Teacher’s College Columbia University, University of Northern Colorado, and University of Kentucky, and other locations to take part.

But why? What makes this so interesting that they’d put a grueling day of travel, or make an impossibly long drive via car? What is it about Modern Band Rockfest that attracts these dedicated teachers during their summer break?

According to Little Kids Rock, “Modern Band Rockfest is the only national conference focused on advancing Modern Band in the US public school system. Modern Band is a stream of music education that teaches kids to perform, improvise and compose using the popular styles that they know and love including rock, pop, reggae, hip-hop, R & B and other modern styles. Modern Band classes feature an instrumentation that includes guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals, and technology, in addition to the usual band and orchestra instruments. Modern Band programs leverage the cultural capital of students and expands upon existing music programming such as marching band, jazz band, orchestra, chorus, and general music, making music available to children who might otherwise not participate in traditional music classes.”

I’ve had so much fun visiting the Modern Band Rockfest and Symposium the last couple of years, because I get to be a fly on the proverbial wall, and just sit back and observe. Seeing the excitement and feeling the energy from these turned-on music educators is encouraging, and makes me just a little bit jealous that I’m not a kid going through school all over again in the 21st century when so many music teachers are putting together the kind of programs that would have spoken to me on a very personal level.

About Little Kids Rock

“At the heart of the Little Kids Rock’s work is its mission of transforming lives by restoring, expanding, and innovating music education in our schools. Since 2002, Little Kids Rock has given more than 500,000 underserved schoolchildren across the U.S. access to fun, engaging, Modern Band music classes and brand new instruments at no cost to the students, teachers, or school districts. The organization partners with school districts to train public school teachers to run its innovative Modern Band curriculum and donates all of the accompanying instruments and resources necessary to teach popular music in a way that empowers students to experience instant achievement.” The Modern Band program is launching in 17 more schools this year, with help from a grant from the Anschutz Foundation.

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