by Bill Clifford with Bob Frazier
As we wrote in the first issue of Harmonic Dissidents, Music National Service (MNS) founder Kiff Gallagher has launched an ambitious pilot program — Musician Corps — as a model for Obama’s proposed Art Corps/Musician Corps expansion of AmeriCorps. Gallagher wrote language that was passed in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (HR 1388 , formerly the GIVE Act) last spring and federal appropriations were scheduled to be made in October. At last report, Congress is too tied up in health care and war debates to appropriate money for anything else. As of mid December, Sarah Bolten, a Legislative Aide to Washington Senator Patty Murray, expects the appropriations bill to pass in the next few weeks. Overall AmeriCorps appropriations should be increased between 22 and 36% over last year.
Ms. Bolten also noted that there is no specific mention of Musician Corps in the Serve America Act but “there could be room for art and music education under the Education Corps, depending on local need.” The original legislation does not provide for full implementation of Obama’s promise to triple the size of AmeriCorps until 2017, by which time the current administration should certainly be out of office.
Perhaps in anticipation of another year of reliance on corporate grants, Gallagher is pressing Musician Corp Fellows (the teaching artists) to document every move. Fellows in Seattle have reported that the documentation is onerous, but to be expected in a pilot program. Bob Frazier, a Fellow in the San Francisco program further reports that they are backing off from the Teaching Artist model promoted by MNS Board member Eric Booth (see our review of Booth’s book, The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, in this issue.)
Bob writes: “Because of the fact that we are dealing with MNS being a pilot program, the statistical paperwork has been monumental. Each Fellow has had to be responsible for every person that we have serviced over the last two months and we must track each student for the rest of the year. The thinking of Kiff Gallagher, Music National Service’s Executive Director is that we no longer think of ourselves as teaching artists, so I suggested we refer to ourselves as “SERVICE ARTISTS”. I find myself asking myself, ’Is this what I envisioned when I read the job description?’, and my answer is a little bit of yes and some no. Being one of the oldest teaching artists in the country. I have always felt that I was being of service to the children I have helped to raise and educate. Millions of children have had their lives guided by us the teaching artists. Branding to make a point can be a good thing but I am not so sure about this one.”
“I have two sites: a high school and an elementary. At the high school I teach 4 classes twice a week and the elem. 5 classes twice a week. In addition we are performing in hospitals, retirement centers, boys and girls clubs, hospice care and–from time to time–special concerts at city hall, etc., I wish that I could say that I am having fun but the truth is that it leaves me very little to be my own artist. It is good being back in the Bay Area, although I do miss all of you up there in Sea town. I’m in touch with all of the Fellows in the other cities, we have a conference call about once a month.”
Although Musician Corps, HONK! and Community Music (see Community Music: From “There” to “Here” in this issue) share a goal of spreading musical appreciation, Musician Corps’ emphases on improved scoring on standardized tests and other corporate-inspired metrics endanger the joy of experiencing music for less quantifiable goals. While any increase in arts funding should be welcome, teaching musicians should be aware of who is paying the piper.
More on Education Corp at http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/promise/325/create-an-artist-corps-for-schools/