Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Music scholarship named for Chuck Leavell

Legendary rock keyboardist and music director Chuck Leavell is being honored with a music scholarship in his name by the San Francisco-based Saints and Sinners Fund, which supports a variety of children’s causes, including music education. The $5,000 award is designated for a promising collegiate pianist teaching within the California Music Project (CMP), in which university music-education students assist music teachers in local public schools.

Funds for the award came from a Saints and Sinners benefit concert last year that Leavell headlined in San Francisco. Called Groove in the Heart, the concert raised money for various agencies devoted to music education that have been supported by the 40-year-old Saints and Sinners Fund, whose historical focus has been on children’s causes, including healthcare, family services and education.

Among the agencies benefitting from the concert were Blue Star Music Camps (a rock-and-roll camp for teenagers in Northern California, and a co-sponsor of the event), Little Kids Rock (which provides free musical instruments and instruction to public-school children in cities throughout the country) and Oaktown Jazz Workshops [which bring jazz to young people in Oakland (California) and the surrounding area].

Leavell is one of the most admired keyboardists in the rock world. Over decades of performing, he has amassed scores of recording credits with many of the biggest names in rock. He has been the performing keyboardist and musical director for the Rolling Stones on tour for the last 20 years, and has performed with numerous other legends such as Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers.

“As we all know, the music programs across our country have been suffering from budget cuts and other problems for many years now,” said Leavell. “It then becomes up to us in the private sector to jump in and try to make up some of the shortfalls that exist, because music is so important to us in so many ways. Music makes us smarter, stronger, and better. It enriches our lives in a multitude of ways. We simply cannot let our population suffer from ‘music deficit disorder.’”

“Chuck’s commitment to music education is unparalleled, and it is with great honor that Saints and Sinners could contribute funds in Chuck’s name,” said Steve Cinelli, a San Francisco-area banker, board member of both Saints and sinners and CMP, and a friend of Leavell and Jimmy Dillon, founder of Blue Star Music Camps.

The first recipient of the prestigious Chuck Leavell Scholarship is Helen Kim, 25, who last year earned her Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from San Jose State University, and is currently training in the school’s music-education program. As a teaching fellow in the California Music Project, she is working at a high school in San Jose.

“I was shocked,” said Kim, who has been playing piano since age 7, and studied as a child at the San Francisco Conservatory. “I couldn’t believe it at first. I still can’t believe it. I’m really grateful they’re giving awards like this to people who need them.”

Said Leavell: “I’m so proud and flattered to be involved with this scholarship, and want to congratulate the deserving recipient, Helen Kim. My thanks to Steve Cinelli and all the others in this program for stepping up to the plate and providing this wonderful opportunity.”

Begun in 2004, the California Music Project was initiated by the California Arts Council to reverse the decline of music in the state’s public schools. The project’s first wave of college music majors emerged in the 2006-07 academic year from San Jose State, home to one of the nation’s leading music departments and a major center for training future music educators.

Currently, 12 music-education students from San Jose State help with music classes for eight to 10 hours a week in 19 San Jose-area public schools. The real-world experience enables the students to develop as future teachers, and the students’ assistance allows current teachers to teach their music classes more effectively.

“It’s essential that they’re helping me this year,” said music teacher Kira Dixon of Silver Creek High School in San Jose, where two San Jose State students are assisting. “I don’t know what I’d do without them. They’re helping my students learn the music faster, and they’re giving me time to be a better teacher.”

California currently has a shortage of public-school music teachers, and a 2004 study by Music for All – a nationwide music-education and advocacy organization – found that of all subjects taught in the state’s public schools, music had declined the most precipitously over the previous five years. Called “The Sound of Silence,” the Music for All report was a significant impetus for the California Arts Council to form the California Music Project, which is focusing on teacher training as its first strategy toward both improving and expanding public-school music instruction.

“Our best hope to build future audiences for all of the live performances yet to come is to instill a love of music in our young generations,” said CMP Chairman Barbara George of San Francisco.

“A strong relationship has been proven between interest in music and high scores on cognitive tasks, general self-esteem and interaction with others,” George continued. “I believe that students who are involved in music connect with each other better. There are over 100 languages spoken in California. Through the language of music, we can all interact.”

The San Jose State initiative, led by Dr. Diana Hollinger, assistant professor of music, coordinator of the university’s music-education program and a board member of CMP, began s a pilot project in 2006-07.

“There is an incredible return on investment for each school that participates in the California Music Project,” Hollinger said. “School children are getting individualized attention, future teachers are being developed, and current teachers are able to use their teaching time more effectively. And the cost for 12 university teaching fellows is approximately the same as for one full-time public school teacher.”

With the San Jose State program’s success, George envisions that other California State University music departments will follow in their own communities.

“The state university system is a tremendous resource,” George said. “There are campuses in big cities, in suburbs and in rural areas. Imagine what we could do for music education if all the 23 campuses had such programs. This is the just start of the turnaround of music education in California.”

To read “The Sound of Silence” by Music for All: http://www.californiamusicproject.com/sos_execsum.html

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