Cindy Cook is the co-owner of the Candyman Strings & Things in Santa Fe, NM and a board member of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).
I consider myself a patriot. When I see someone clothed in an armed forces uniform or adorned with a VFW hat, I always extend a thank you. I can barely allow myself to comprehend the magnitude of the bravery of those who have fought on battlefields, and the suffering they endured so that millions of their fellow citizens—present and future—could live freely. I, as a woman, also cherish my right to vote, knowing that it was won by suffragettes who endured a great deal. All I have to do is show up and cast my ballot. I take very seriously the freedoms I enjoy, because I know the tremendous price paid to win them.
Before participating in my first NAMM Music Education Advocacy DC Fly-In, I had no concept of the meaningful ways that we can participate in our country’s decision-making process. I hadn’t realized our ability to influence our elected officials, or their accessibility. In a few short days, NAMM taught me what was possible; by example and through the provision of knowledge and tools, NAMM impressed upon me the value of fulfilling my duty as a citizen…my duty, beyond simply voting, to effect positive change. What could be more important than the livelihood of children?
Participating in the Fly-In redefined me. When speaking with other participants, I realized we all had the same inability to convey the magnitude of that of which we were part. How could we explain the experience to our staff, our friends and our family back home? We could talk about logistics—the Day of Service, the training, the receptions, the Capitol Hill meetings—but how could we put into words the ineffable experience?
When I consider NAMM’s 10,300 individual companies (and the astounding number calculated by factoring in the management and staff within those companies), and then think about there being only 91 Fly-In participants (a record number, by the way), I realize that, by participating, I was among the “cream” of our industry. I was among individuals led by their hearts and convictions, not by the almighty dollar. I was with people who wear their dedication to the music products industry on their sleeve, and who seek to ensure our education system does better for our children by incorporating music programs. To be in a gathering of such people was awe-inspiring. I felt proud to be among them.
Whether we’re owners and managers of music retail stores or whether we’re manufacturers, service providers or reps, we all work hard and tirelessly. The profound opportunity that the Fly-In offered seduced in each of us the desire to dedicate our efforts not to our day-to-day tasks but, rather, to ensuring that music education enriches young lives. It got us out of our comfort zones and into an unfamiliar place, where we had little experience…or confidence. Once we were there, though, our reward was an indescribable sense of purpose, belonging and achievement.
As NAMM delegates, we were privileged to attend incredible dinners and receptions that sparked new friendships, and that fostered conversations about our industry and how to improve the public education system. We rubbed elbows with music-advocating artists, including Tim Robbins, Bernie Williams, John Lloyd Young and others. We sat in awe, listening to esteemed speakers from our government, our industry and the arts community.
Memorably, we were honored to share the power of music with students at a local public school: the Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy. Witnessing their joy, even while learning about the rough realities many of them face, was truly profound. The next day’s highly beneficial advocacy training equipped us to meet with Congress and make our case. We learned how to be diligent at home, so we can ensure access to music education in local school districts. We also received a customizable press release that eloquently encapsulated the experience, so that we could share it with others. In fact, articles written about our individual involvement have already popped up across the nation. Accolades and appreciation have begun to roll in on e-mail and social media. Hugs and handshakes came through the doors.
I’ve always been enamored with NAMM and the stellar, hardworking people behind the ubiquitous acronym. With each renewal of my membership, I’m reminded of its multitudinous services and opportunities. So many, in fact, that, much as with my computer and cell phone (and my brain!), I know I only tap into a small percentage of it. My Fly-In experience made me even more aware of NAMM’s incredible work. The NAMM Foundation has funded years of top-notch research to back up our arguments about music education being vital for kids. It creates opportunities, it heals, it enables academic success, it creates a way to relate to peers and the world, and it builds compassion. It saves lives. And we can prove it.
Earlier this year, many of us heard Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) speak at the NAMM Show. I think he nailed it when he said, “If we had more music in schools, the population would be better eventually. Music education is key. You probably won’t ever get a football program canceled, but a music program can be canceled. I think that’s a giant mistake. Children are 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future.”
I watched Kimberly Deverell, Manager of San Diego Music Studio, tear up at the Fly-In, rhetorically asking, “Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to fight to get—and keep—music in our schools? Why doesn’t everyone want to make sure every child is provided music education?” Her emotion was genuine, and all who were there shared it. Many of us have had a front-row seat to watch music change people’s lives…even save them. It’s a no-brainer.
My own experience and the validation that comes from NAMM’s research has led me to conclude that incorporating music as part of a well-rounded education provides the best opportunity to enhance a student’s education in all areas, and to raise school performance levels. Look no further than Turnaround Arts schools, a program led by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. They have progressed significantly in student achievement, attendance rates and other metrics.
I don’t have to look far to see positive results from fed and fostered music-education programs. I live in a city (Santa Fe NM) where music education is valued, albeit also underfunded. The Santa Fe school district (SFPS) has been named a “Best Community for Music Education” for the past three years. The hard work and dedication of Leanne DeVane, SFPS’ Music Education Coordinator, and her team are truly commendable.
I had lunch with her recently and told her about my Washington DC experience. I sought to get a glimpse of her thoughts, and I asked for her insights as to how I could be of assistance. She said, “Santa Fe Public Schools believes that music is a vital component of a complete education. As such, it offers music to 100 percent of its elementary students. In late elementary grades and all middle and high school grades, our students have equal access to band, choir and string orchestra electives, and, in some schools, guitar or piano. Those electives are chosen by 42 percent of our students. Students in music classes participate in a highly academic subject, which fully engages and strengthens the intellect. Moreover, through the study of music, our youth find identity and purpose in an increasingly complex, and sometimes confusing, world. Many student lives are literally saved through music. Considering this, there is simply no reason not to offer music, and there’s every reason to offer it.”
I was so encouraged by the meeting. I wish all that and more for all communities in our state and in our nation. DeVane went on to say, “I am proud of Santa Fe Public Schools and its leaders for the stance they take in ensuring the arts are alive and well in the lives of our students. They’ve shown bravery in keeping the arts in our schools amid increasing student growth and requirements for achievement in literacy, math and science.”
I was so pleased to speak to lawmakers from my state—Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM)—in their Washington DC offices, and I was thrilled to learn they are proponents of music education. Nobody on Capitol Hill seems to think music and arts education is a bad thing. Perhaps, at worst, some might not realize the magnitude of its impact. Inevitably, though, the appropriations process—and all the interests vying for funding—is the tough part. Just imagine if we could create a music-education champion in every senator, congressman, governor, city council member, school superintendent, principal and parent. It would no longer be a constant battle. People would realize there is an “easy button” for many of our school systems’ weaknesses.
Prior to the Fly-In, I had no idea how to advocate on a national or state level. NAMM, however, took me by the hand and led me through the process. The association gave me the skills—and the confidence—to advocate. I went from being frustrated by the devaluing of music in our schools as evidenced by music-program cuts to having the gumption and know-how to engage in tried-and-true advocacy. I got NAMM power!
Now, when I thank a vet, I can stand proudly, knowing that I’ve not wasted his or her sacrifice. I’ve now taken fuller advantage of that person’s gift. I can welcome parents and their children into my store to take a lesson, to make a purchase or to join rock camp, look them in the eye, and know I did something big on their behalf. And I’ll continue to advocate for them for as long as I can.