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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Bringing the music back home

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Indianapolis music legend, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, partners with music education nonprofit, Music Will, to bring no-cost music education program to Indianapolis schools

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds

Indiana’s own Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds is partnering with the nonprofit Music Will to bring no-cost music education to twenty Indianapolis schools. The nonprofit will provide instruments, curriculum and teacher training to twenty area schools all at no cost to school administration, families or students. The first stop locally is Carl Wilde Elementary School, IPS #79 on West 34th Street.

Founded by Dave Wish, a former teacher from Palo Alto, California, the Music Will nonprofit was born from Wish’s “frustration by the lack of music programming in his school,” according to a statement provided to the Recorder. The program was first funded by donations from his friends and Wish started by teaching free guitar lessons to students after school. These lessons eventually became what is now known as Music Will, “the largest nonprofit music program in the U.S. public school system,” which has served over 1.6 million students in more than 6,000 schools.

Music Will’s Chief Relationship Officer Janice Polizzotto says the success of the program is due in large part to the ability of music to bring people from various backgrounds together, and the program is “really student-centered.”

Music Will Chief Relationship Officer Janice Polizzotto says “We’ve really established a wonderful relationship with the [school] district” who she says welcomed the program with “arms wide open.” (Photo/Stacia Sloss)

Edmonds says Music Will offers something special as it pertains to music education with its “modern band” approach. Beyond just donating instruments, the nonprofit helps to train teachers in a variety of musical genres including Latin, hip hop, R&B and jazz.

“As a trained Music Will teacher myself, I can say without reservation that the Music Will training completely revolutionized how I taught my students,” says IPS Fine Arts Coordinator Traci Prescott, who has already begun using the curriculum. Having taught general music for 16 years, Prescott says the Music Will programming allowed her to teach a wider variety of instruments and, “teach them how to play music that they enjoyed much more quickly.”

“Kids want to do all kinds of music at this particular point, and that wasn’t always offered,” said Edmonds, who recalls his own time as a young musician in school. Though his options were limited at the time, he still values the exposure he received.

“Growing up in Indy, I was fortunate enough to have a music program, because I went to North Central High School and it had a great music program,” Edmonds said. “Even through junior high school and elementary school, music was the one thing that kind of gave me a voice. If I didn’t have music, then I don’t know what I’d be doing today.”

Edmonds says one of the greatest benefits of having access to music education was that it kept him involved in school. “Had I not had that, then I might have just been completely MIA.”

Describing himself as a shy kid, Edmonds knows firsthand the benefits of learning music, saying it helped him become more confident, enough to even orchestrate the school’s talent show in the ninth grade.

“It gave me a voice and gave me confidence that I wouldn’t have had. That travels in every part of your life.”

Polizzotto noted they have seen a reduction in absenteeism as well as an increase in students feeling a sense of belonging. Within their bands, she says students are learning life skills like negotiation and conflict resolution.

“With music, it was the one place that I felt confident and felt like I could participate, and so it does build character, and it does give you leadership skills,” said Edmonds.

Students at Carl Wilde Elementary School perform. Edmonds says, “You don’t know who’s in that choir, who might be a huge artist one day.” (Photo/Stacia Sloss)

In 2023 the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) put forth Indiana Academic Standards for K-12 music education including four key themes for educators: connect, create, perform and listen/respond.

While the IDOE has provided statewide standards, it is up to each school to create their own music education program.

That is where Music Will comes in. The nonprofit is able to tailor the curriculum to the school, offering culturally relevant musical instruction, which helps students connect to music that reflects their lives. In Dallas, there is even a school that created its own mariachi band, says Polizzotto.

For students that are not eager to perform, Edmonds says there are many other careers in the music industry.

“Everybody’s not necessarily a musician, but there are parts that they can play in terms of being in this music business and being educated in that way [like] going to business school so they know business,” Edmonds said. Aside from performers, he says other key roles within the music industry include attorneys, record company executives and Artist and Repertoire (A&R) representatives. Edmonds encourages people new to the industry to pay attention to the business side and not just the music.

Polizzotto says Music Will is “open and available to all kids.” If it were up to Edmonds, all students would have access to learn how to play whichever instrument they would like.

“I think that being able to play an instrument is the best thing. Being able to play piano, being able to play guitar or violin, trumpet; those things always make a bigger difference because you’re actually using your brain and you’re using your fingers in a different way,” Edmonds explained.

Music Will is also partnering with other artists like Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Idina Menzel, a Broadway and film actor and singer, and country legend Dolly Parton. Polizzotto says that each artist is able to select a geographic area and Edmonds chose Indianapolis. Edmonds is glad to be a part of bringing music education back to schools, especially in his hometown.

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds says “There can be students that may have this talent in them and they don’t even know what it can do for them until they just start to explore.” (Photo/Stacia Sloss)

“To be able to offer that to schools that don’t have music programs today, because it’s gone away from so many different schools all over the country; I’m happy to be able to help make that happen,” said Edmonds.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Carl Wilde Elementary School is IPS #79. Janice Polizzotto’s title was updated to reflect her current role as the Chief Relationship Officer.

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  1. First, I would like to point out that there is an error in this article: Carl Wilde Elementary School is IPS#79 not #74.

    Secondly, hats off to Kenny Babyface Edmonds for giving back to the community on such a tremendous way! I am an alumni of Broad Ripple Center for Performing Arts High School. I understand the importance of having the various elements of the arts integrated into education. I pray that decision makers continue to work to provide students with the rich, robust, well- rounded quality education that they deserve!

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