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Nashville unveils ambitious music-education program for schools

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If you lived in Silicon Valley, wouldn’t you expect the public schools to have extensive programs in computer programming and entrepreneurship?

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean posed that question Thursday to help explain his city’s new plan to create what is being billed as the world’s most ambitious music education program.

The plan for the city’s K-12 school system, called ‘Music Makes Us,’ was announced Friday at a news conference in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. It calls for upgrading existing music programs such as those for band, orchestra and choir, and including some unusual new classes. Those offerings will have kids playing in rock ‘n’ roll bands, spitting hip-hop lyrics, DJing, writing and composing contemporary songs, and learning modern production techniques.

The funding is still being worked out, but private support from the music industry is expected to be a major component. Some of the new classes will be integrated into school curricula as early as next year.

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Dean, in a phone interview Thursday, said the goal isn’t so much to churn out little Alan Jacksons and Miranda Lamberts -- though it’s unlikely anyone in Nashville would complain at such an outcome.

‘I don’t see us as being a farm team for the music industry,’ he said. Instead, Dean said, the effort is a recognition that music ‘enriches a person’s life, makes them a well-rounded person and helps them academically.’

The focus on teaching kids rock and pop styles is a trend likely to spread, now that baby boomers and Gen Xers are pretty much running the nation’s education systems. The New Jersey-based nonprofit Little Kids Rock is helping 74,000 students learn to play instruments, focusing on popular forms that they (or their parents) actually listen to for fun.

So while smoking in the boys’ room might still get kids sent home, ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room’ -- the 1973 Brownsville Station hit -- just might earn them a spot on the honor roll, if covered with sufficiently dopey panache.

Dean acknowledges that the healthcare industry is Nashville’s largest employer; the local healthcare council even bills Nashville as ‘The Health Care Industry Capital.’

But that doesn’t have the same romantic ring as ‘Music City,’ which may explain why students will soon have guitars -- and not insurance forms -- in their hands next fall.

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--Richard Fausset


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