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DEN MOTHER: Bonnie Raitt lent her name and talent to help the California Music Project.

Bring That Beat Back

The California Music Project fights the decline of music in California schools

By David Ma

BONNIE RAITT, Los Lobos and Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) recently lent their name and music to a single cause, producing a CD and donating time to tackle an issue important to them.

What cause would bring such diverse, well-known artists together? Nothing less than the decline of music education.

Troubles began unfolding when the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) act was imposed upon California's schools. The Bush-mandated act requires standardized testing in public schools, such that they gain or lose funding based solely on reading and math test scores. While those subjects are important, the act dismissed not only the importance of science and history, but also the challenges of immigrant student populations and the effects of disproportionate district funding.

It also nearly ushered music education out of existence, and the negative effects emerged quickly. Valuable programs and learning strategies were tossed aside in order to prep for the onslaught of state exams. Music education was hit hard, silencing young musicians and their classrooms.

But NCLB's stranglehold didn't go unnoticed and has been fervently addressed by the California Music Project (CMP), a nonprofit organization of educators, parents, artists, musicians and students from diverse backgrounds who are pushing back against this decline of music education.

"I immediately thought something had to be done," says San Jose State professor Diana Hollinger, who worked to develop the California Music Project. "It was right after I read an eye-opening study entitled Sound Of Silence."

Sound Of Silence, a study compiled by the CBEDS (California Basic Educational Data System) was released by the California Department of Education in 2005. The data concluded that NCLB was the main cause of declining music education programs. Moreover, it showed that music was waning at a much faster rate than all other academic subjects, and that California's budget crisis only worsened the situation.

The study illustrated other alarming statistics, most of which translated into the direct loss of students and teachers. Roughly between 1999 and 2004, music education enrollment dropped by 50 percent, while student populations actually increased. In addition, the number of music educators dropped by about 27 percent in our state, amounting to a half-million students and teachers who've been stripped of music and its benefits.

"I finally found myself at a board meeting with spirited educators and leaders," recalls Hollinger. "It was a diverse group of people who had ideas and the power to do something about this. We were from all across the spectrum, and wanted to create a synergy that would have long-term effects for music education."

Consequently, the CMP organized famed musicians to lend their music to the California Music Project Vol. 1. The benefit CD features Jack Johnson, Beck, Dwight Yoakam and Ben Harper among others in the hopes of raising money and awareness. In addition to the CD, the CMP have utilized numerous avenues to keep music education active.

In partnership with the California State University system, CMP funds a credit program for SJSU students majoring in music, thereby encouraging and assisting students pursuing a career in teaching music. The strategic program has since been replicated on other Cal State campuses and their communities.

CMP also makes $1,000 grants available directly to teachers and their classrooms. The program, "Teachers-for-Music" is a joint venture with the California Arts Council, which has used its existing infrastructure to award these grants to deserving schools, educators and their kids.

Studies have suggested that music education, like sports, for example, strengthens self-esteem and performance in other academic subjects as well. With innovative strategies and thoughtful collaboration, CMP's efforts have been able to slow the deterioration of music education. All the money raised thus far has been funneled directly back into California's ever-quieting classrooms.

"We want involvement, leadership and more understanding," says Hollinger. "The CMP has already brought together so many different people from all different backgrounds simply for the sake music educationthis is unlike anything that's happened before."

To purchase the benefit CD, 'California Music Project Vol. 1,' or for more information on how to help, visit or [ ]

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