Browsing Tag



Preserving Gospel Music and Inspiring Teenagers

July 21, 2011
Gospel for Teens

Gospel for Teens

I recently came across a 60 Minutes segment that was very moving, encouraging, and left me with goosebumps — so I had to share it with you.  The segment presented by Lesley Stahl featured a New York City program called Gospel for Teens, developed and operated by Executive Director Vy Higginsen, a long-time radio personality and theater producer.  Gospel for Teens was launched in 2006 and is still going strong today under the MaMa Foundation for the Arts. The kids have to audition and attend the weekly rehearsals to participate in Gospel for Teens, which take place in a brownstone located in Harlem, New York.  The auditions are held once a year and teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 19 are able to join the group.  The kids don’t have to be the best singers in the world or be the next American Idol,  but they do have to be able to hit a good note or two.  The teens are never charged a fee to be a member of the group.  Gospel for Teens is supported by grants, donations, and interested sponsors who wish to see the program flourish.

Ms. Higginsen was interested in teaching the importance of gospel music,  explaining how the genre is an integral part of American history.  She also found it a way to encourage New York City and New Jersey teenagers to build their confidence and self-esteem.  Vy teaches the youngsters about the roots of traditional gospel music and how it cannot be forgotten or cast aside.  Vy Higginsen feels that if she has the ability to reach the children involved in Gospel for Teens and encourage their love of music cultivated from their heritage, then maybe they’ll eventually teach it to the generations after them and continue the legacy of great music.

It was amazing to see each teenager, whether they were excited, nervous, or timid, go from the audition process and transition through a few months of work to sing with such wonderful power, spirit, and joy.  The Gospel for Teens is a program that opens up new doors for many intelligent young people and provides these individuals a way to be involved in a positive activity as well.

Click the link below to watch the story.  I truly believe you will not be disappointed with everything you see and hear.  The music that these young kids create is guaranteed to leave you in awe.  Many communities could use an organization like Gospel for Teens as a way to build hope and knock out negativity in our youth.

Click here to watch the 60 Minutes segment. 

Click here for extended CBS coverage on Gospel for Teens.

Click here to visit the mama foundation website.

Music Advocacy

Did You Know?: A Music Advocacy Presentation

March 22, 2011

In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, and to continue our efforts to raise awareness of the importance of music education, Pepper would like to share this video.  It’s a phenomenal compilation of the results of so many of the studies conducted which revolve around comparisons between students who participate in music versus those who do not.  If you are looking for a tool to enhance a music advocacy presentation of your own, then this video is highly recommended.  Some facts of note:

  • Music participants receive more academic honors and awards than non-music students.  (National Center for Education Statistics, 1990)
  • Reading or composing music particularly engages both sides of the brain.  Music in the curriculum…may be a valuable tool for the integration of thinking across both hemispheres of the brain. (Brain-Based Learning, by Eric Jensen, 2008)
  • High school music students score higher on the SAT in both verbal and math than their peers (The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006)


Meet Julius Brown and the Extraordinaires

January 18, 2011
Julius Brown

Meet the Extraodinaires

Music teacher Julius Brown is making a big difference at KIPP, otherwise known as the “Knowledge Is Power Program.”   There are approximately 99 KIPP educational institutions operating within the United States.   They promote learning through their commitment to principles they term the “Five Pillars”:  high expectations; choice and commitment; more time; the power to lead; and the focus on results.  A few KIPP Schools are scattered across Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with one particular making big splash on that area’s music scene.  Brown grabs young children’s attention by first letting them pick out an instrument they’ll enjoy playing, then providing instruction in various music techniques like how to warm up and practice scales, and the art of improvising.

Julius Brown’s teaching method has been so successful at the KIPP Philadelphia Charter School that he was presented with a $10,000 Excellence in Teaching Award.  A fellow KIPP colleague commented about Brown, saying “This teacher has taken his love of music and wrapped it around our children.  He turned his music classroom into a space for students to express themselves in new ways.” 

At one time or another kids might have displayed behavioral issues or were doing poorly academically, but, it seems once the students get involved with music, the majority of Brown’s students start on the road to becoming well-rounded individuals prepared to move on to higher education.  Quite a few of Julius Brown’s students continue playing instruments in high school and college.  Mr. Brown has made such a good impression on the seventh and eighth grade KIPP students, they really look forward to playing and enjoy it.  Plus, the music isn’t just contained in the school music room or auditorium, they’ve actually booked a few gigs.  The young instrumental group is known as the Extraordinaries, a  jazz-funk fusion band that has performed at fundraiser events, teacher’s weddings, along with putting on an annual spring showcase at Warmdaddy’s, a Philadelphia jazz club.

It is wonderful how Julius Brown takes his passion for music and shares it with students at the KIPP Charter School, giving them the chance to  reach their full potential while developing a love for creating great sounds.  Brown mentions “music stands on its own.”  I believe music truly helps to awaken our minds, motivates, and energizes us, as well as brings smiles to our faces.

Click here to read the full article from the Philadelphia Inquirier.

Click here to learn more about the KIPP Charter School.


Music Advocacy

Can You Bring Generations Together?

December 6, 2010

Wheeling High SchoolThe homecoming celebration for Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Illinois had a special event attached this year.  As part of the festivities, invitations were issued to all previous members of the bands throughout the years — not an easy task considering all the band students that attended Wheeling High School  since 1964!   Current director Brian Logan extended a special invitation to the former band director, Dean R. DePoy, to attend and conduct the national anthem at the evening’s festivities.  Mr. DePoy was the first director of bands when the school opened in 1964 and was the driving force in establishing a highly respected and distinguished band program that exists there to this day.

As a graduate of Wheeling High School, I was shocked and surprised when one day in early autumn I received an email from a fellow student from that era letting me know about the plans for the event.  I had not been back to my alma mater in years and was surprised anyone from there could still find me (I graduated a LONG time ago).  As a student I was a member of the band program under Mr. DePoy and looked forward to seeing him and my fellow band members again.

As it turned out the attendance was exceptional and the warm reception from the current  band members far exceeded anything I expected.  It was extremely gratifying and heartwarming to see fellow band members that I hadn’t seen since high school — but the high point of the evening was getting to visit with Mr. DePoy after all these years.  All of us, his former students, had the same first impression:  “He hasn’t aged a bit!”  Though many of my classmates seemed to have aged very little, it was remarkable at how unchanged he looked.  Several of us commented that he looked better than most of his former students who were much younger than him!  Watching him conduct  the national anthem instantly brought back memories of many performances we had under his baton, and how we as band members grew together and formed strong bonds  of friendship that have lasted throughout the years.

It was an event that I won’t soon forget, and on behalf of all of the band alumni I want to thank Brian Logan, director, and all the members of the Wheeling High School Band for their thoughtfulness and efforts in hosting this event.  I hope sharing this story may encourage other schools to consider making this part of their homecoming activities. 

There is so much  joy generated when you put together people that bonded through their many music experiences.  Memories and friendship abound,  just as all us “Wildcats” experienced on that cool, pleasant fall evening.

Music Advocacy

The Soundtrack of our Lives

November 18, 2010

Recently, while watching an episode of Biography about the movie Jaws, my mind wandered back to the summer of my tenth year, to our family vacation in Florida and a visit to the theater where we saw, of all things, the movie Jaws.  Don’t ask me why, on a family vacation to the beach, we wanted to see a movie about a man-eating shark loose in the ocean ravaging innocent people, but that’s what we did.

The year was 1975.  No one had heard of Steven Spielberg yet, but everyone was talking about this movie.  The terror!  It all came down to one thing:  the soundtrack.  They played a short section of the film without the music, and then they played the same section again with the music added in.  What power those few notes held!  And I mean that literally, for John Williams chose to utilize only a few notes to instill terror and fear into those watching the film — and it worked, brilliantly!  Would this film have reached the same heights of success had it not been for those famous notes?

I began to think about how our each of our lives also has a soundtrack attached to it — much like a movie does.  From the nursery rhymes that our mothers sang to us when we were toddlers to the songs we were taught in Sunday School.  The songs we learned in elementary school or the one that we played for our first piano recital.  We remember our first dance or the music we listened to the first summer we drove our own car, and the tunes we listened to on the radio during our first date will always take us right back there!  Who can forget the music from our senior prom, the first dance at our wedding, or even a favorite Christmas carol that we never tire of hearing?

These are the sounds that are the soundtrack of our lives, for our lives are filled with music every day.  When you hear talk of cutting music programs from our schools and distributing those funds to other, “more important” programs, remind those people about the music that makes up the soundtrack of their lives.  We are not talking about simply a “subject,” but a real part of who we are.  We are exposed to music in some way almost every minute of the day through the internet, in advertising, on television, radio… it is everywhere.

Those who want to dismiss music from our schools might not be swayed by research demonstrating that children learn better when they are exposed to music, or that it makes us better, more rounded adults;  but maybe they can identify with something that tugs at a memory within them — something from their own soundtrack.  We all have one, it is the soundtrack of our lives.


A Random Act of Culture

November 16, 2010
If you were one of the lucky shoppers at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia at noon on Saturday, October 30, 2010, you enjoyed an unforgettable experience!  The Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform an impromptu rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. This special event was one of a series of “Random Acts of Culture” to be sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. This video is so inspiring, I can’t wait to see and hear the next event in the series. Who knows, I might even be one of the unsuspecting people in the crowd to be surprised and delighted when it happens!

    Need the link?


A Truly Super Championship

November 11, 2010

I had an exceptionally rewarding experience this fall when I attended the Bands of America Super Regional Championships in Saint Louis.  Almost 50 bands from 14 states took part in two days of preliminary marching band competition, culminating with the top 14 groups competing Saturday evening in finals competition.  I have attended this and many other competitions in the past and this has to rank as one of the finest I have attended.  Every group that took part was well rehearsed, disciplined and displayed a remarkable level of musicianship and movement.  It was amazing that so many groups were able to offer such a broad spectrum of sounds, motion and visual impact.

Being able to perform inside the enclosed Edward Jones Stadium provided an extra bonus as groups were able to feature soloists, small ensemble playing and a wide range of dynamics that could be lost outdoors.  The level of playing by the soloists and sections was exceptional and it was nice to be able to hear and appreciate such fine playing.

It was also a treat to see so many family members and band enthusiasts in attendance throughout the two days of competition.  They not only cheered for their own school but showed appreciation for all the groups they watched, they cheered and applauded the high impact points of the shows, and listened intently to show their appreciation of the many fine soloists that performed throughout the event.  

All the participants deserve to be recognized for their hard work and dedication, not just the groups making the finals.  The high goals that every band strives for resulted in two days of excellence that everyone had a hand in creating.  My congratulations go out to each and every student, director and supportive parent and administrator.  I can’t wait for next year!

Click here for information about Band of America’s Super Regional Championship Shows.


A Different Role

July 23, 2010

Recently I met with one of my former professors, a terrific mentor and now colleague.  Addressing him by his first name is a bit surreal after many years of sitting in his classroom.  The purpose of the meeting began rather selfishly:

  1. We both enjoy a good cup of coffee.
  2. I needed to retrieve my graded final paper in hopes of using it as a writing sample should I ever need to submit one.
  3. I am one of those academic types that actually enjoys research and I wanted to bounce around a few ideas.

Conversation led from one thing to another, from suggestions for expansion of that final research topic from a different perspective, to my family, my work at J.W. Pepper and the proverbial “so, now what?”

Does that question ever go away?  His answer of course was one that I and many of you already know — no, it does not.  No matter what the circumstance, our role simply changes.  After more than one cup of great coffee,  I came away with lots of other suggestions and advice as well!

That is the beautiful and lasting thing about teachers that have touched our lives — we never stop wanting their advice.   Perhaps we can all do more to take on the role of giving good counsel to others in the field of music.  I will start here with sharing this interesting article from the New York Times about openings at the nation’s major orchestras:

Need a Job? Help Wanted at the N.Y. Philharmonic


Here’s to You, Mr. Masterson

June 18, 2010

Thank you!In an era where The Arts seem to play…ahem… “second fiddle” to other disciplines in our schools and communities, it’s important we support educators by recognizing those who go above and beyond to support music education.

One such person is Randy Masterson of Saranac, Michigan.  His story came to me from one of our customer service representatives highlighting a conversation they had while he was placing an order with us.   She noted,  “he is an administrator who has been volunteering his lunch hours to teach choir at the school.  He is retiring this year but says that he is going to continue doing this next year, all on a volunteer basis (no pay), because he loves the kids so much and they deserve to have a music program.”  Intrigued and inspired by what I had read, I picked up the phone and called him.

Randy originally began working as a counselor for Saranac Middle School.  He has degrees in both choral music education and counseling, and eventually took an administrative position as school principal.  He later transferred to the high school as assistant principal and counselor.  While both the high school and middle school are known for their impressive band programs, no choral program existed.  Last year, Randy decided to change that.  For 15 minutes a day, three days a week, Randy began teaching choir to students who were willing to join him during their lunch hour.  In December he and his wife Pam, who teaches elementary music, combined their efforts and put on a holiday concert consisting of 111 students, 36 from Randy’s “lunch time” choir.  “It was the biggest crowd we had seen in a while,” Randy said of the audience.

Randy retired from the school this year, but will continue volunteering his time to maintain what he has started.  When I asked him why it is he is doing all of this, he said “I love the kids;  I want them to be able to enjoy music for a lifetime and they need positive experiences as youths in order for this to happen.”

The Saranac community is very lucky to have such an advocate for children and for music in their midst.  We want to extend a heartfelt “Thank You” to Mr. Masterson as well as to all the hard-working music educators out there.  You are an inspiration to us all!


Where music teachers gather

April 5, 2010

Times of crisis have benefits that, although unnoticed at the time, show their value long after things return to “normal.”  As economic suppport of school music programs faces challenges, it is absolutely incredible how music teachers face the future boldy.  I recently attended the Idaho Music Educator Association Conference held in Nampa.  Despite budget problems, music teachers from all over Idaho came together for three days of clinics, sessions and concerts, and a chance to network with colleagues, thought leaders and supporters from the music industry such as Pepper.

For those of you who haven’t attended a music education conference in a while, allow me to share a snapshot of what happens there.   I’ll start with the floor of the convention hall.  While this might look like a self-serving storefront for most companies, it’s so much more than that.  The convention floor is where teachers and industry people connect directly, without barriers.  It’s where teachers have a direct voice in saying what kind of support they need in music publishing, manufacturing, fundraising and many types of music support industries.  In return, vendors have a chance to show what they’ve developed to meet educational needs.  Both parties listen and learn much at this gathering spot, and this interaction shapes future resources being developed to support music education.

We take great pride in the look and design of our convention booth.  It needs to be a conversation-starter, a portable piazza.  My Pepper booth was an indispensable way station where people would stop after attending clinics.  There were brightly colored Teaching Music through Performance books sharing table space with Peter Boonshaft’s famous tomes.  New concert band music occupied the corner and rounding out the display were fingering charts, how-to manuals, and various other books written for and by music teachers.  I particularly liked I Know Sousa, Not Sopranos, a Russell Robinson book that young band directors might need when looking for their first music teacher gig. 

The conference sessions were informative and highly entertaining, with band, choral, and orchestral topics as well as practical offerings for teachers of elementary through high school music.  Henry Leck from Butler University gave two dynamic sessions based on his book and his DVD, Creating Artistry Through Choral Excellence and Creating Artistry Through Movement, respectively.   I was happy to hear positive reviews of  An Orff Ensemble with Caribbean Steel Drums, hosted by Anita Edwards.  It wouldn’t be a music conference without a diverse range of musical flavors!  

The venerable Dr. Peter Boonshaft dropped by on Friday after a day of honor band rehearsals to say hello and sign a few of his books, namely, Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music With Promise.  Peter is a renaissance musical thinker to whom I’d rather just listen and not say a word in response.  He’s the conductor everybody wishes they had as a music major.  His abilities as a storyteller are astounding… it’s no wonder that he is so busy attending conferences around the country!

As the conference wrapped up on Saturday and I was anxious to head home, I couldn’t help but feel tremendous pride for being involved with this event.  Not only did I feel we brought value to the event, but I learned much from the teachers there, and was touched by those who expressed personally their thanks for our company’s support of them.  This IMEA Conference happens once every two years, and I am already looking forward to the next one!