Today we’re joined on the show by Vincent James, who is the co-founder of an organisation called Keep Music Alive. They organise two big music holidays each year: Teach Music Week and Kids Music Day.
In 2017 they partnered with over 600 music school and retail locations to help celebrate Teach Music Week and Kids Music Day by offering free music lessons and holding other community events including open houses, student performances and instrument donation drives.
Vincent and his wife Joann are also authors of a book called “88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life” which features over 100 inspirational music stories from around the world, including a number of celebrities.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Vincent is also the man behind LoveSongs.com, writing custom love songs on request.
In this conversation, we was keen to find out more about the musician behind these three fascinating and impressive projects. We talk about:
- The book “88+ Ways…” – what inspired him to take on such an ambitious project and how it came about. I also ask Vincent to share two of his favourite stories from the book.
- His experience writing custom love songs for couples and his advice to all budding songwriters.
- The two nationwide events he’s organised, partnering with over 600 music schools and stores across the US, to promote music learning.
And Vincent shares the biggest lesson that comes through all of these projects and successes which you can apply to your own musical life.
We’ve really loved reading a story or two from 88+ Ways each day recently, it’s a great way to stay aware of and inspired by the incredible power of music in our world. Between the stories Vincent shares in this conversation and the events he has coming up in 2018 that you can get involved in, you’re going to come away from this one feeling uplifted and inspired too.
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Christopher: Welcome to the show, Vincent. Thank you for joining us today.
Vincent: Thanks, Christopher. It’s great to be here.
Christopher: So you are a man of many interesting projects but one of them that I particularly love is the book that you put together, 88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life. I wonder if you’d set the mood for us by sharing one of the stories from that book.
Vincent: Sure. I would love to. The story comes to us from a songwriter who got involved in music more seriously later in life and the title of the story is called simply, “Thanks, Mom.”
Strangely enough, she had always wanted me to play more music. My mom, that is. It had been in a band in college and had also done some solo work after that. We were always very close but then I got a business career and that was followed by having three children in three years. Yeah, life was really busy and I just couldn’t fit music into my days. And then she died. I sat there looking at her three grandchildren under the age of five. They would never know their sweet grandmother and she would never see them grow up.
I didn’t know how to grieve. There wasn’t a lot of time for that, either. That very night, it started. Music and lyrics came to me while I was sleeping. It happened over and over again, often waking me up. Original music. I had never written original music before. I started to think I was cracking up. I decided to make a therapy appointment. Although the therapist gave me validation for my sadness, I left without anything else that was very helpful and then a friend of mine suggested I visit a producer friend of his to try to make sense of the music I was hearing in the middle of the night.
Even though I still cried every morning, that was the beginning of my new life. I now had some place to put my emotions. I took the money set aside for therapy and booked studio time instead. And that was 22 years ago. My mother’s legacy? I love my musical life every single minute of every single day. Not a day goes by when I don’t imagine my mother’s smiling face. I’m forever grateful to her for so many things. Even in passing she is still with me, giving me a reason to wake up every day, to create music.
This story is dedicated to the lasting memory of Beatrice Bradford Greenfield, always and forever a dear supporter of the arts.
And this comes to us by a Bonnie Warren, who is basically a Nashville songwriter now who travels back and forth from Philadelphia to Nashville regularly to write songs. She’s had several songs published, won songwriting contests and this is just something that developed, you know, later in her life and she decided, you know, based upon this, you know, tragic occurrence with her mom passing, you know, when her grandchildren were so little, to really jump back into music. You know, she was feeling it in here, in her heart.
Christopher: Wow. Fantastic. I love that story and that’s one of those from the “Inspiration and Motivation” section of the book, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s just one of 88+ terrific stories that you and your wife together in this wonderful book. Before we go on and talk more about that book as we will, I’d love to just get a bit of background on you. Who is the man that with his wife put together such an inspiring book of musical stories? How did you get started in music?
Vincent: Well, Christopher, I’m a nut from early on. (Laughs) Let’s see, way back in elementary school, you know, I have, my memory isn’t so great but I have certain memories that stick with me. I can remember being sick home from school. I probably had the flu because I was home for two or three days in a row and I can remember being drawn to the a.m. clock radio on my beside listening to, you know, to the pop music of the early 70’s, you know, when there was, you know, the John Denvers, the Bread, the Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Stills and Crofts, you know, all these, you know, what they call soft rock hits and then just, the melodies just drew me in and I’ve really never let go of melodies since that time.
Around the fourth grade, I think, is in elementary school where they allowed us to start learning how to play an instrument, you know, we had band in school. We were very fortunate that we could choose an instrument if we wanted to play in band and so, you know, I came home one day from school and I said, you know, to my parents, “Hey, I’d like to, you know, really love to learn how to play the guitar.” I don’t even think that was a band instrument at the time, but I just had my idea, you know, “If they’re teaching instruments, I want to play the guitar, ” and my parents said, “No, I don’t think so,” you know. So I went back to school the next day and I came home and I’m like, “How about the drums? Can I play the drums? That’s a band instrument,” and they said no even louder. I don’t think they wanted the noise. So I went back a third time and they came back and said, “How about the trombone?” and, you know, we were sold on that. The trombone, the slide instrument. It was very cool and I had a lot of fond memories playing, you know, all the way from fourth grade to senior year of high school and marching band, concert band, stage band, which was like a jazz, you know, type band. Fond memories of everything from early, you know, Mr. Don Ramos, the band teacher in elementary school with a little baton thing, you know, whacking you when you’re hitting the wrong note, you know. This is old school days, right?
But, you know, he was great and all the way to a senior in high school in the marching band competitions and just the camaraderie with the other musicians and students and really band was kind of my life, you know. If it wasn’t for band and music I probably wouldn’t have had any friends in high school and in high school I also started, you know, learning to play the guitar and I think I skipped a little part where probably around middle school, junior high school it was back then, my mom had always wanted play the piano and so my dad, you know, agreed to, you know, “Let’s get a piano and bring it in the house,” and my mom started thinking classical piano lessons and I was, like, you know, a bee drawn to honey. I’m like, “Well, what is this thing?” you know? I just started pounding on a single notes on the piano and I’m like, you know, “When can I start?” you know, “Can I get lessons?” And I was very fortunate that, you know, not long after I was able to along with my sister start taking piano lessons and then learning, you know, the classics, everything from, you know, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and that was kind of my real, I guess my initial musicality connection where, you know, trombone, you’re just playing off the bass clef, single notes at a time, and the piano you’re doing both hands, and, you know, reading all this music in front of you and I got into it pretty well for three or four years and really enjoyed it and then at one point, you know, the pop radio kind of pulled my ear again and I got interested in, you know, a lot more popular songs, you know, everything from, you know, the Beatles — which I discovered after they broke up, sad to say.
Christopher: That’s okay. I did too, by 30 or 40 years.
Vincent: Right, and the rock bands, you know, everything from Kiss to Queen to Led Zeppelin, you know. I started to really enjoy lots of different types of music, whether it was soft music, hard music, classical music, jazz music, I really had an affinity for anything that I felt was done well and so I started playing in a rock band with my friends.
I can remember the very first song that I wrote. I’m struggling to remember the name of the song but I could sit there at the piano and play it for you, now.
But we had gone further — I can’t remember the reason — to another high school and met up with some other kids and there was a kid there who had a song, lyrics for a song and he needed someone to write music. “Words for a Friend” was the name of the song and it was very Jackson Browne-ish type of lyrics he had written. So I wrote a song that went with that and then our band eventually started playing the song out. So that was kind of my first experience of writing and playing a song, you know, it was originally created, out.
Christopher: And coming from trombone and classical piano, it’s not an obvious next step to join a band and start writing songs. That’s a bit of a creative leap that I think a lot of musicians don’t make. Did that come easily to you?
Vincent: I think it was, I don’t want to say, peer pressure, but your peers, you know, I had friends, it’s funny, you know, just us talking is bringing back memories. When we were in junior high school there was a deep freeze, like it is right now here in January, actually the pipes at the junior high froze. I guess the heating had a problem, and they had to close the school for a couple of days and I had a friend two doors up who was a budding drummer and so I went up and hung out at his house for, like, two days and we basically created an imaginary rock band called “Atomic Power,” and then we had a notebook with all these ideas and he would play drums. I think he had drumsticks. I don’t think he actually had drums at that time and I played air guitar and we just got this inspiration of an idea that we wanted to play in a rock band. We were starting to discover bands like KISS and Led Zeppelin and at that time Led Zeppelin would have been way too impossible for us to attempt to play but the KISS songs were fairly easy, you know, rudimentary for us to start playing so eventually we hooked up with another friend who had a guitar. My buddy Mark the drummer got a set of drums and we would go out in a backyard and play, you know, one note songs, you know, one note at a time, melodies on the guitar as I was struggling to learn with him playing on drums and that was kind of the beginning. I think it was just the sheer joy and excitement of being able to play something. Maybe it was because it was loud versus the classical but to play songs that we heard on the radio that were popular amongst us and our friends I think that’s kind of what drew us in.
Christopher: That’s great. We had a great piano teacher called Sara Campbell on the show recently and we were talking about how as an adult we often have hangups about making mistakes in music and actually it can be really valuable to remember that childlike willingness to just try stuff out, you know, you dabble around, you find the right note. It sounds like that’s the kind of approach you guys had, you know, you weren’t embarrassed or self-conscious. You were just kind of figuring it out by ear and enjoying collaborating with them.
Vincent: Oh, absolutely, and that’s a great point, you know, we do, as adults, often, you know, have a hangup of being afraid to try something new in particular with, you know, if it’s around other people. I think that’s something we can all learn from, you know, from different activities that we’re interested in. It’s just sometimes you just need to try it and have some fun with it and you’ll be surprised at how enjoyable the experience will be.
Christopher: And so did you continue with classical piano or at that point did you kind of take a detour into, you know, creativity and improv and different styles?
Vincent: I think at that point I took a permanent detour. I never stopped liking classical music but as far as playing it I don’t know that I ever really played it seriously again. A little side note, earlier this past year I volunteered to a friend that was giving a TEDx talk. He wanted to have a classical piece played as part of it, you know, just a short little snippet, so I’m thinking, “Oh, well, I’ll give it a try,” and I practiced for several weeks and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t gonna get to where it needed to be in time for his live TEDx event so we did use a present-recorded piece for that time but for me it was a great experience. It kind of reconnected with my classical roots just a couple of months ago, you know, where I really tried to get it up, you know. I got a lot better in those several weeks but I couldn’t get it to the point where I thought — it’s not so much how I would be embarrassed, because I wanted to give him the best possible presentation for his TEDx talk. It was about Einstein and the power of music and I felt, you know, it really needed to be up to a level that, you know, matched what he was talking about and I just wasn’t there yet.
Vincent: But I totally enjoyed reconnecting with classical music and I probably will because of that experience kind of get back into it again just for fun, not for serious because I enjoyed reconnecting with, you know, reading the music and getting better at stuff more complicated than pop music.
Christopher: Mm-hm. So tell us about the detour you did go on, then, because you continued to play and you continued to perform I believe and become a performer.
Vincent: Yes. Yes. So I continued playing, you know, in high school with bands and then, you know, my musical career kind of went through all different incarnations, everything from, at one point I decided I wanted to just be a songwriter and I spent time working on that, writing songs, doing demos and pitching them and then I wrote a song called the “Rock and Roll and Wrestling Connection” and I don’t know if our listeners remember back in the middle 80’s there was this pop culture thing going on with the wrestling, World Wrestling Federation and pop music with Cyndi Lauper. It was just this pop culture thing going on and so I wrote this song and basically it’s a tribute to that.
So there was a local cable TV station that created a video using all the people in the lyrics, you know, from their footage that they had from these wrestling events and Cyndi Lauper and they were able to put it all together to match the lyrics and from that experience I ended up, we ended up, creating a band that I wasn’t in but ended up helping to manage the band and, that got me in a whole different direction for a couple years and managing other bands. Then I got into the direction of managing a recording studio and co-owning a recording studio for a while helping to produce and arrange for artists and bands and then I finally got back to performing a while later initially a solo playing piano and singing and then I had my own band for a while and then I’ve kind of gone back now to just playing and singing on my own just as time permits.
It’s hard to keep a band thing going with everything else going on but, you know, I’ve never really stopped playing. I would take pauses along the way and in, as you can tell, a lot of different directions. Focus wasn’t always my best attribute but I learned a lot from the different experiences that I was in and with that experience I’m able to, I think, give guidance and ideas and feedback to, you know, budding musicians or even adult musicians that are, you know, trying to learn more about music and how they can fit in and how best to use their talents and how to grow what they’re doing.
Christopher: Mm-hm. So you mentioned songwriting, there. How big a part is that of the musician you are?
Vincent: I think it’s probably the biggest part. I mean, I play, you know, I have played three instruments in my life, four if you count the ukulele that I played, you know, briefly for a TV taping that I needed to do but I haven’t played the trombone in many years. I play the guitar. I actually teach guitar just to beginner students. A quick side note, my one and only student is 83 years old, didn’t start playing the guitar until he was 80 years old.
Vincent: So I’ve been teaching him for three years and it’s a wonderful experience and, you know, you can “Oh, it’s never too late,” you tell people, “to learn how to play an instrument,” especially guitar. You would think it would be difficult, with the calluses and all, trying to build them up, and it was for him but he stuck with it and now he’s enjoying playing and singing some of his favorite songs on the guitar at 83 years old. But I don’t play guitar much other than to teach my one student. I’m not very good on the guitar these days. Piano is kind of my main instrument. I sing fairly well but the songwriting, I think, is my strength where I have probably the best skills set, you know, just been, because songwriting is something I’ve been doing more consistently over the years and I just think I have a better knack for it and I love creating a song, whether it’s something that I write, you know, for me, or I write for someone else or whatever it is. Just having that creation coming, giving birth to this piece that — you know, before you came up with it never existed. To me that’s a beautiful thing.
Christopher: So in a minute I want to ask you about how you got started with songwriting and any advice you’d have but first I want to pick up on something you said, there, which was writing songs for other people. You have a fascinating project at Lovesongs.com. Can you tell us about that?
Vincent: Sure. Sure. Probably about 15 years ago or so I realized that, you know, I was writing all these different songs and I kind of had this kind of eureka moment where, you know, love songs is kind of like my thing, you know? I kind of just gravitate toward writing love songs even though I appreciate all kinds of music but it’s just the soft love songs that when I write in that vein it just seems to come out much better. So I just happened to notice, I don’t know how I stumbled upon it, but Lovesongs.com. The URL was for sale so I jumped at the chance to purchase that at the time and since then have been writing custom love songs for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and other special events, for couples and families, really all around the world, thanks to the internet. People with come and find me and ask me to write a song for their special occasion and sometimes I get to go actually perform it live at the event and to see the recipient, you know, who’s hearing the song for the very first time, hear the song that was written for them, you know, their eyes light up, the tears come down. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than that, than being able to give a song to someone, you know, to be able to perform it for someone for the very first time, a song that was written, you know, for them.
Christopher: That’s lovely. Are there any songs or experiences that particularly stand out?
Vincent: It’s funny. There are many, but there’s one in particular that was actually done as a contest for a radio station here in the U.S. There was a radio station that wanted to give away a song as a part of a contest so I signed on with them to do this for them for free, just something, it just felt like an interesting project and I hadn’t done much work for the radio stations at the time so they — I figured, all right. The winner of this contest — and I don’t remember what the contest was, what the parameters were to enter, but I’m thinking, the winner is going to be somebody who wants a song for their wife, husband, fiance, the children, the parents, you know, the typical song that I would write and then I got the call the next day that the winner for the contest was a mother who had recently given up their child for adoption and they wanted a song that they could play for them some day if they ever got the chance.
As a parent myself with four children, my heart just totally went out to this mother so, and the thing about this contest was I had agreed to write a song, do a quick demo and they were going to play it the next day on the air. So I sat at the piano, really, and you can’t see me but I’m looking up just, you know, for inspiration from above, just, the song just came down from the heavens and a song called, “So Many Things” came out of it and I did a quick demo, a piano vocal demo and maybe a little bit of percussion and just strings. It was a very quick turnaround and they played it on the air the next day and to me that was the most, probably the most special song that I’ve ever written for anyone for any reason because it really touched me, you know. I’m gonna tear up now (laughs) talking about it.
And then eventually I did a real studio recording of the song and it’s on my full-length CD and it’s out there in the world on iTunes. If you search “So Many Things” you can find it in here, the song I wrote for that mom who had just given up their child for adoption.
Christopher: Wow. Well, we’ll definitely put a link to that in the show notes for anyone who wants to listen. That’s really a touching story. To write songs as requested like that is a particular talent, I think, as a songwriter, a particular skill and, compared with, you know, just — I don’t want to belittle writing for yourself but compared with writing in a more ad hoc manner when an idea comes to you to have someone come to you and say, “I need a song X-Y-Z,” that really requires, I think, quite accomplished songwriting skills. Can you tell us a bit about how you learned to write songs, if there were any particular resources or teachers or ideas that helped you along the way?
Vincent: There were some books that I read. There was a successful songwriter named Jason Blume who has a book. I can’t remember the name of the book but if you google Jason Blume, B-L-U-M-E, to me it was kind of, like, my Bible at the time and I believe, you know, everything he taught back then would still stand today, you know, other than maybe promoting songs with, you know, going for publishing deals might be a little dated, but the mechanics parts of writing songs, that was kind of my Bible at the time and a lot of it is just experiences, getting, you know, practice. It’s just like anything else. You learn to play the guitar, you learn to play the piano, you have to practice songwriting. You have to write a lot of bad songs, sorry to say, to get to the good ones. I listened back to some of the early songs I wrote and I’m like, “These are horrible.”
Vincent: Like, if I never put myself out there to write them and to go through the process to actually go from start to finish to create those songs I never would have become the songwriter I am today without that and it’s funny, you mentioned about custom songs, thinking that that might be harder. In a way, that was actually easier because I was given the topic and I would create a questionnaire, so, you know, eight, ten questions to ask the person who wanted to give the song, my client, just, different things that they, you know, who is the song for, where did you meet? What do you guys like to do together? Do you have any special memories, fond memories, of things, you know, what do you see in your future, just, kind of, basic, general questions but from that at least the story of the song was easier for me because a lot of the times what we struggle with as songwriters is, what do we write about?
So one of the things they teach in songwriting is to look at the newspaper, you know, whether it’s online or the physical paper. Look at the headlines. Look at the stories underneath the headlines. See what’s going on in the world and you’ll find situations going on in the world, some happy, some not so happy that you’re gonna feel drawn to, inspired by, to create a song and to me, once you have that inspiration to create the song, then the song is going almost create itself because you’re gonna be drawn to write something with the lyrics and the music that kind of fit the tone of the lyrics of what you’re writing, so because I when know my own life is not really that interesting, which is often, I struggle to write songs, like, for myself, like, “What am I gonna write about? I just don’t feel like my life is that interesting.” Occasionally I would come up with something like, “Okay, there’s something worthwhile to write about,” but often, you know, we have to go outside ourselves as songwriters to discover a topic that we can write about that would be meaningful for others because if it’s out there in the world or if one person’s experienced it other people are gonna have had that experience and they’re gonna relate to whatever you’re writing.
Christopher: I think that’s great advice. Do you have any other words of wisdom for the budding songwriters in our audience, maybe those who are too nervous to get started and those who have made a start but they’re not quite sure if they’re on the right path?
Vincent: Sure. Some of the other tricks I remember is taking an existing song, take the music from an existing song and, you know, play that on your guitar, piano, whatever it is, and write new lyrics for it. So this is a great way to practice writing lyrics and then you can take lyrics from an existing song and write new music for it. Just sit there with the lyrics sheet in front of you from some famous song you really like and force yourself to write something different. It’s a great, I think, exercise just to help force you to practice writing music.
You can put together songs in a lot of different ways. I often recommend co-writing with someone. Let’s say that you’re a lyrics kind of a person. You’re really great at coming up with lyrics but the music part you’re just not happy with. Find someone out there through open mikes or other community, you know, music experiences or online through Musical U where you can connect with someone who maybe their strength is music and they just, the whole lyric thing has just got them bogged down and you connect with someone, you know, either in person or online where you can collaborate together and you’re both going to create something that’s gonna benefit both of you because you’re going to benefit from their music, you know, if you’re the lyric person you’re gonna benefit from the music they bring to the table and seeing how they do it and vice versa. You’re the music person struggling with the lyrics, you know, you’re gonna benefit from the other person coming up with the lyrics and their process and you might find yourself especially if you’re doing this in person with someone where you’re going back and forth where you think that, you know, lyrics were your thing but you’re coming up with musical ideas because you’ve got the other musician in the room with you and it’s kind of like brainstorming, right? Songwriting by collaboration and co-writing is brainstorming and together you’re gonna come up with something that’s much better than either one of you could come up with alone so I highly recommend collaborating, co-writing and with different people, you know, write a song with this person, write a song with this other person, you know, you may eventually hook on the one person where you both have, you know, Lennon and McCartney, you know, what kind of jewel was that for all of us for all time? But in the meantime, you know, connect with other people. I’m sure Paul and John both wrote with many other people before they hit upon their magic match. And because music is such a community I think activity where you feel something so much more inside when you’re doing it with other people. Whether you’re performing for other people, sharing music or co-writing, you know, when you’re in the room with someone or online by Skype or other means, co-writing or collaborating with someone, you’re gonna have more fun creating music than you will sitting in your room by yourself. You’re gonna enjoy the process and you’re gonna want to do it more.
Christopher: I 100% agree with that and I’m reminded of you as a teenager with your friend on the drums, you know. If you can cast aside that self-consciousness or nervousness there’s nothing better than just hanging out and exploring music with a friend, right?
Vincent: Yes. Yes, because you know the feeling you get from listening to music, you know. How many times can you listen to a song and you get that high, you know? I think almost any musician or someone who’s interested in playing music and even people that don’t care about actually playing music, you know, you hear certain pieces, certain songs, certain melodies it just gives you this high, you know, it’s the dopamine being released in your brain, literally. It’s the chemicals in your brain that are making you feel high and you can enhance that experience by doing it with other people.
Christopher: So you were having a terrific career as a performer and songwriter but around 2014 you took a change in direction. Tell us about that. Where did that come from?
Vincent: Well, there were some training programs that I would listen to on a regular basis, just free webcasts that people that I know would put out and I would listen to it and one of them was always about how you should, you know, everyone should write a book. Everyone has a book in them to write and I always thought, “Okay, I write songs. I don’t write books. What would I write about?” you know. The thing I knew the best is songwriting and those sort of books don’t fly off the shelf unless you’re, you know, an established, known, you know, successful songwriter but I thought this one day I just had this idea, “Well, why don’t we just listen to this one training program and just,” you know, “for the heck of it?” and it was actually during that call I was listening to, the webcast, where it just came from somewhere from above and I’m like, “What about writing a book that includes stories from other people about how music affected them and changed their lives?” It literally just came to me in an instant and I, you know, I got goosebumps. I got all excited. I’m like, “Wow. This is awesome. This is something that I can do that’s not about me, it’s not about my music but it’s gonna share everyone else’s musical experiences and how we’ve all benefitted as a society from having music in our lives,” and I just got really excited and that’s how our whole organization was started, Keep Music Alive, back then and the book series was born, 88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life, and, you know, it’s grown and evolved since then but it’s just, to me, that was the beginning of where it started.
Christopher: Writing a book, I think, is daunting to a lot of people. That’s a big project to take on but writing a book that draws in 88 different people or more to contribute stories is a whole other kind of a project. How did you go about that? How did you find the people? How did you get them to contribute their stories? How did it all work? It must have been a huge amount of work.
Vincent: Yes. Yes, well, what we did was we literally reached out to over 6,000 musicians over a six-month period, both famous and non-famous, you know, anyone we could find online who was a musician, amateur, or professional, we reached out and explained to them what we were doing, what the concept was about and we were just very fortunate that we had literally over 150, 160 responses that came back that we felt were usable that we could include and actually we ended up using all of those original stories in the first edition that came out of the book, initially, in 2015 and just so grateful and particularly with the celebrity contributors who included a story in the book, because, you know, they didn’t know us from Adam. We didn’t have any track record, you know. The first book, you know, who are these Keep Music Alive people? But they were so gracious in contributing a story because music was that important to them even after all the success that they’ve had that they really wanted to share how it started and these different experiences that they had that they feel would benefit other people.
Christopher: And tell us more about the mission of Keep Music Alive that inspired this book project.
Vincent: So the book project kind of spawned Keep Music Alive, kind of together at the same time and interestingly enough, in the past year, just last year, we kind of had to split the book as a separate thing from Keep Music Alive in that over the last couple of years we’ve created two music holidays, Teach Music Week, and Kid’s Music Day and these are holidays where we partner with hundreds of music schools and music retail and soon public and charter schools all around the world to offer free music lessons for the week for Teach Music Week, hold different community events, student performances, open houses at their facility, instrument donation drives, instrument petting zoos, all different kinds of things where, to try to celebrate more music in the community and obviously Kid’s Music Day focuses on kids, you know, more kids playing music and enjoying playing music and Teach Music Week is about all ages because the free lessons that are offered by the participating locations are, whether it’s for kids or for adults, because we want to see as many people from all ages enjoying the benefits of playing music. So when we created the two music holidays at some point we needed to split that away from the book so that the Keep Music Alive is a non-profit enterprise now as of last year so Kid’s Music Day falls under that umbrella. Teach Music Week falls under that umbrella but the 88 Ways Music Can Change Your Life, you know, is still an ongoing book series but that’s separate from the non-profit.
Christopher: It sounds like the emotional drive is still common between the two, right? You clearly have a real desire in you to help spread music and help increase the joy of music in the world.
Vincent: Oh, absolutely, and mentally it was kind of hard to split because for two, three years it was all together and, you know, and we donate, actually, 50% of the proceeds from the book to music education to — there’s three organizations. There’s Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, Guitars in the Classroom, and Spirit of Harmony are all three organizations, non-profits out there, that put more music instruments and musical instruction in the schools and communities that need it both here in the U.S. and some of them do work outside of the U.S., across the pond, as they say and so, yeah, creating more music opportunities, more music instruments available for kids that want to play and adults, you know, that’s central to everything that we do. Just, we needed to kind of split what we’re doing as authors and speakers on one side which we continue to donate much of what we generate to the non-profit but these other organizations and to what we’re doing on the non-profit side for Kid’s Music Day and Teach Music Week.
Christopher: Wonderful. I think like the book, organizing those two, they’re national, right? They’re U.S.-wide.
Vincent: Yeah, so, you know, this past year in 2017 we had the third annual Teach Music Week in March. It always occurs the third week in March and up until last year we were calling it Teach Music America Week because we started it here in the U.S. and have realized it’s growing beyond that so we kind of needed to update the name to make more sense so Teach Music Week and last year we actually partnered with over 600 music schools and retail locations in all 50 states and Canada and in October we partnered with, I think, over 400 music schools and retail locations for the second annual Kid’s Music Day and each of those are, like, four, five hundred percent growths over the previous year.
Christopher: That’s incredible.
Vincent: So we’re hoping to grow this so eventually, you know, long past when I’m walking on this earth, you know, Kid’s Music Day and Teach Music Week will be celebrated as international holidays that will benefit musicians of all ages for the many reasons, the many benefits that we get from playing and listening to music.
Christopher: Amazing, what I was going to say was about, like, the book. That’s a huge amount of work to organize something on that scale and if it’s growing like that year by year it’s clear there’s a real demand for it or there’s a real need for it. Was there something in particular that drove you to start these two holidays when you looked around? Was there a particular lack or a particular opportunity? What was it that gave you the drive to put so much effort in?
Vincent: You know, it’s funny. That’s a great question and I’m thinking back. I’m trying to remember. The holiday that came first was Teach Music Week, you know, starting with Teach Music America in the year 2015 and I don’t know where the idea came from. I just had this idea that came to me and then that first year we actually weren’t partnering with anyone. I just had this idea, “Hey, why don’t we take a whole week in March?” which, March happens to be Music in Our Schools month, at least here in the U.S. and possibly everywhere, and “Let’s take a week in March and let’s encourage musicians everywhere to find someone to give a free lesson to, you know, your friend, your cousin, your nephew, your child, your parent, you know, you’re really having fun on your instrument and they’ve kind of been eyeing it up a little bit but for whatever reason they’re just, you know, afraid to take that step, you know? Well, let’s encourage them and get them started on playing an instrument, show them how fun it can be.
So let’s just take a week, put it out there into the world and see if we can get musicians helping other non-musicians start to learn how to play an instrument, whatever it is,” and so that was the first year, when we weren’t really partnering with anyone. I was just putting it out there into social media, just spreading the word all by my lonesome (laughs).
And then the next year I went to do that again and it was, interestingly enough, a media person said, “Well, who else is doing this?” and then I kind of like, “Oh, there’s a great idea. I should be involving other,” you know, “music schools and retail that already teach people, teach music, to try to get them involved in offering free lessons,” so that’s kind of where that started and then it just grew year after year and then for Kid’s Music Day it was actually another holiday that got me inspired. We have a friend who created something called Kids Yoga Day which happens — it might be the first Friday in April and I’m thinking, “Kids Yoga Day. Well, what about Kid’s Music Day? Is there such a thing?” So, you know, we pulled out the handy-dandy Google and we looked it up and it was, like, “Wait a minute. There’s nothing going on like that,” so it was born at that moment and I think the first year we partnered with, in 2016, about 85 music schools in 23 states, in 2016, and went up to 420-some in 2017 in, like, 40-some states so you get these ideas from various places and sometimes we don’t even remember where or why we got the idea but I think the important thing to learn is to — sometimes when you get an idea you just need to actually put it into action and to run with it because a lot of times we get ideas whether it’s, you know, it can just be for songwriting. You get an idea and you, just, kind of like, “Oh, okay,” and you just walk away and, you know, you don’t write it down, you know, you don’t push a little recorder in your phone to capture it, you know.
When you get an idea, you know, I think we need to as any kind of creator whether it’s a musician or otherwise, you need to just record it somehow even if — so that we can go back to it and, you know, kind of go into an idea a little bit further and see if it can be something even bigger because as humans we’re bombarded with ideas, you know, we’re bombarded, you know, from the outside, you know, from the news and all these different outside places of things going on, but we also through those things that we’re getting, you know, we can come up with these different ideas and I think it’s really important and valuable to the world and to ourselves to sometimes act on those ideas and maybe it’s not something we can do by ourselves and maybe we need to partner with someone or, you know, give the idea to someone else who you think would be really good at running with it but the world, I think, is a better place when we have what we think is a really good idea, if we share it somehow with the world.
Christopher: That’s excellent advice. So I applaud you highly for all of your efforts from these two holidays. I think Keep Music Alive is a wonderful project and these two holidays you organize are a fantastic idea. This year in 2018 Teach Music Week will be March 19th to 25th and Kid’s Music Day will be the first Friday in October, that’s the 5th of October. If people listening, Vincent, want to get involved or learn more about these, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Vincent: Probably the best way is through our central website, which is keepmusicalive.org and from there that’ll take you to teachmusicweek.org or kidsmusicday.org and on those two holiday websites you’ll see a map currently, just a U.S. and Canada map but we’ll be expanding that to have maps in areas for other countries where you can click to see who’s participating in your area and maybe you can get involved, you know, maybe you’re already part of a music school or you’re already, you know, you know someone who could be involved and just by seeing what is already going on in your area or maybe there’s nothing going on in your area and you want to start something in your area.
Christopher: Perfect. Well, that’s an easy way for people to learn more and see how they can get involved. I’m definitely going to be hanging on to you for a minute after this interview ends to see if there’s some way Musical U can contribute or collaborate with you in one or both of those events. I don’t want to guess and guess wrongly, but to me it makes perfect sense that you wrote the book before starting those two holidays, because I myself have been reading and enjoying the book over the last several weeks, just kind of dosing myself a couple of stories a day and it’s incredibly uplifting and inspiring. I think it makes perfect sense that after immersing yourself in those 88 stories you had the drive to put together two such phenomenal music boosting projects like you did. I wonder, would you mind wrapping things up for us by sharing another story from the book, maybe one of your favorites?
Vincent: Sure, sure. One of our favorites comes to us from a very famous drummer. If anyone remembers the hit rock song from way back called, “All Right Now,” by the band, Free, and later members of Free evolved into Bad Company which had many classic rock hits in the 70’s and in the band back then and still today is a drummer named Simon Kirke and we were literally blown away when we got the story from Simon and in the story he talks about he was participating in a drum clinic over in the U.K. several years back and as part of the clinic he’s up onstage in a large auditorium and he’s demonstrating different drum techniques and cymbals and trying different things and showing the audience how all these different things work and trying different techniques and, you know, the sticks, the brushes, and so the stage is all lit up but the auditorium is dark. You know, you’re at an event, you know, the house lights are down but you have the stage lights on so the audience can see you but you can’t really see what’s going on out there.
And as he’s starting to play these different techniques and show these techniques to the audience, every time he’s hitting a drum or a cymbal or something he’s hearing a little clicking sound going on from somewhere out in the auditorium. He can’t tell where it is, he can’t tell what it is, it’s just, like, what is that? In the beginning it’s mildly distracting, you know, he’s obviously played with lots of different distractions in his career so it’s not a big deal but he’s continuing. He’s pulling out different drums. He’s pulling out different cymbals and demonstrating different techniques and, again, continuing.
The clicking sound keeps going on and after a while he’s actually starting to get a little annoyed, like, you know, “Who is making this racket while I’m trying to,” you know, “I’m doing this clinic for all these people in the audience? I just don’t get it,” you know. So, but he just carried on and, you know, he just tried to chuck his emotions to the side but it was definitely starting to affect him. So, you know, he finished up and at the very end, you know, when you’re done, you know, the house lights go up. So for the very first time you can see what’s going on in the auditorium, and in the very back of the auditorium there’s a row of wheelchairs with kids sitting with muscular dystrophy holding drumsticks and they had been playing with him the whole time. So the clicking sound was the children playing.
You know, you just, I’m gonna cry now, when I retell the story. It’s just, his heart just about dropped out at that moment. He just, you know, couldn’t believe, you know, what he was thinking and what he saw that these kids were, you know, he was providing music therapy for these children in the back of the room. He went back to the back of the auditorium, he knelt down and he shook very one of their hands and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for playing with me today. I really appreciate it,” and I think in his heart he was changed, you know, from that experience and even today he lives here in the U.S. and Simon helps kids that have had, you know, different drug and addiction problems and just trying to give back, you know, for all the benefits he’s had as a musician over the years and to me, just, that story just demonstrates the power of music.
You have these kids that are, have an extreme disability, you know. They’re in a wheelchair, they can do hardly anything but they can hold drumsticks and they can play along with whatever music’s going on and they are benefitting from that, you know. It’s an outlet for them that they wouldn’t have otherwise without music, so to me that kind of, that story kind of just sums up why we do this, why music is so important to us, for children and adults of all ages and all abilities, why I feel the more people that can play music and enjoy the benefits of playing music, whether it’s the educational benefits, or therapeutic benefits or just putting a smile on our face, you know, music is so powerful and the more we can play and enjoy it, I think, the better.
Christopher: Wonderful. That was another story from 88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life. You can find that on Amazon but we’ll have a direct link to it in the show notes if you want to read more of these incredible stories. Thank you so much, Vincent, for joining us today.
Vincent: Oh, you’re very welcome, Christopher, and thank you so very much.