Berklee Collaborates to Expand Music Programs in New York Schools

By 
Allen Bush
September 23, 2014

More than 15,000 students at 112 New York City public schools are receiving a new type of music education from the initiative Amp Up NYC, a unique collaboration between the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), national nonprofit Little Kids Rock, and Berklee to expand the district’s Modern Band music program. Modern Band gives students the opportunity to play, compose, and produce the popular music of their time. By the end of the school year, the program will serve 15,000 more students in 160 additional schools.

Modern Band complements current curricular offerings like chorus, orchestra, jazz, and marching band by focusing on music of the past 60 years, from rock and reggae to hip-hop and R&B, among other genres, with a heavy focus on improvisation, composition, and getting kids to play on day one.

Learning and playing music also helps students develop personally and academically. According to a number of recent studies, music increases language skills, improves grades, heightens self-esteems, and sharpens concentration and memory.

Amp Up NYC is the largest private investment in a public school district’s music program in the history of the United States, valued at $10 million of donated resources and services. Little Kids Rock and Berklee provide professional development for music teachers, online and in-classroom learning for students, thousands of new musical instruments, and lessons on guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals, and computers. Ultimately, over the next three years, 60,000 K–12 students in 600 city schools will have access to the Modern Band education. Amp Up NYC will also serve as a model for building Modern Band programs in other public school districts in the United States.

Amp Up NYC debuted in some schools last spring. Students from the Bronx and Queen were among the first to participate in the program and some received full scholarships to attend Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program in Boston.

Berklee and Little Kids Rock have a long history of educating underserved students using innovative methodologies and popular music styles. Berklee City Music is the college’s education and community service initiative, with 47 after-school programs in North America serving nearly 28,000 students in grades 4-12. Little Kids Rock runs the largest, in-school Modern Band program serving over 1,200 schools in 25 of the nation’s largest public school districts. The partners combined their leading online teaching platforms—Berklee’s Pre-University Learning System Experience (PULSE) method and Little Kids Rock’s Teacher Hang—for Amp Up NYC teachers. This new and innovative online Modern Band resource includes lesson plans, tips for classroom management, social media, and classrooms.

At a kick-off event in March, Berklee president Roger H. Brown and Little Kids Rock founder David Wish were joined by representatives from the NYCDOE as well as congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), famed producer and musician Steve Jordan, Saturday Night Live keyboardist and Berklee alumnus Tuffus Zimbabwe, and the first Amp Up NYC students at Lower Manhattan Community School.

Watch a brief video from the launch event, courtesy of High 5 Productions.

“Modern Band leverages our children’s cultural and community experiences and helps us reach more students,” said Paul King, executive director of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects. “In the world of music education, diverse musical experiences enrich kids’ learning and their understanding of the world. Amp Up NYC will certainly bring more and new music-making opportunities to our students and we are delighted to have Little Kids Rock and Berklee College of Music join the many excellent organizations that support music learning for our students.”

Taylor Guitars will contribute SolidBody Custom electric guitars to be distributed to participating classrooms as the initiative rolls out in schools. “Through the work of Little Kids Rock, children across the country are discovering the joy of making music, which studies prove time and time again benefits learning in the core subjects,” said Tim O’Brien, vice president of marketing for Taylor Guitars. “Taylor Guitars is proud to join Little Kids Rock and Berklee College of Music in this new and noble endeavor to Amp Up NYC, and we encourage others in the music community to contribute to this important initiative.”

“We believe that learning to create music not only enriches a student’s academic life, but it can become a lifelong means of self-expression and joy,” said Brown. “Berklee is honored to be part of the effort to support talented music teachers who wish to expand Modern Band programs for New York City students.