Musical Stars Lend Support to MENC for Music In Our Schools Month

Violinist/composer Mark O’Connor and musician/actor Steven Van Zandt may have disparate musical styles, but they couldn’t agree more on the importance of music education. Both recently recorded radio public service announcements for MENC’s “Why Music?” series. Music educators and supporters can download the PSAs to use at concerts and on Web sites, and can also encourage radio stations to play these PSAs during March, Music In Our Schools Month. The series features pop, country, jazz, and classical artists.

Mark O’Connor knows MENC well, having performed at state and division conferences over the years. He’s also an active music educator, as founder and president of the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp and Strings Conference and the new Mark O’Connor String Camp to be held in New York City in 2009.

Mark O’Connor reviews PSA scripts with MENC production coordinator Michelle Mathews at the Center Stage Theatre near the National Center for Music Education in Reston, VA. Photo by Elizabeth Lasko.

O’Connor recorded his PSAs in January before a solo performance at the Reston, VA Center Stage Theatre. After making the recordings, O’Connor spoke about the impending release of his new CD, Americana Symphony (recorded with the Baltimore Symphony), and said he was especially excited that this May sees the release of The O’Connor Method, the first-ever violin method to reflect an “American School” of study.

The violinist says that among music’s many benefits is that it helps young people to express themselves. “I remember as a kid it was hard to talk to adults,” he said. “It was when I realized that I could communicate and express myself to others through music that I decided I wanted to be a musician.” He also spoke of the importance of teachers, remembering how he always felt his “most significant teacher, Benny Thomasson,” believed in him. “Seek out that teacher-student relationship,” O’Connor advises music students. “It doesn’t always happen perfectly every time or right away, but keep trying.”

Best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and an actor on The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt brought down the house at a general session at the 2008 MENC national conference in Milwaukee, where he shared the stage with Andrea Peterson, national teacher of the year. “The teacher of the year and the dropout,” he quipped then — but Van Zandt is serious about encouraging kids to stay in school and to study and play music. In 2007 he founded The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation to fund “Little Steven’s Rock and Roll High School,” his national middle and high school curriculum initiative. MENC is collaborating with Van Zandt on this project, which will be aligned with the National Music Education Standards and offered free to every middle and high school in the U.S.

Steven Van Zandt records PSAs for MENC backstage at the Milwaukee Theatre in April 2008 during MENC’s national conference. Photo by Elizabeth Lasko.

Backstage at the Milwaukee venue, Van Zandt recalled, “My fondest memory of music in school was [my music teacher] taking the music that we were listening to, this brand new thing called rock and roll, and taking it seriously and being respectful of what we were into. It was great to find common ground between teacher and students.”

“I think music is not just good for kids; I think it’s essential to everyone’s well-being,” he continued.  “Without it we’re incomplete. Plus it’s a wonderful way of communicating with each other. Music even transcends languages. Just speak in musical terms, worldwide, to anybody – that’s a real gift.”

2009 MIOSM PSAs Press Release

Elizabeth Lasko, February 27, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education