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Kids on Stage

Kids On Stage

The Hype: “Save the Music.” Poor, needy, abused music. We must save it and the kids too. Let’s spend millions asking adults to take their cobwebbed clarinets out of their closets and donate them to schools where every kid is dying to play “Go Tell Aunt Rhoady” on the clarinet.

The Gnarly Truth: Kids want to play music they hear on the radio, and on instruments made after the invention of electricity. Kids quit public school music classes in an average of six weeks because of antiquated music on antiquated instruments.

The Bright Future: There is a modern music program called Kids On Stage that is so good, so desirable to kids and parents, that it’s turned the worst-performing middle school in one rural Tennessee county into a school with a waiting line of parents trying to get their kids enrolled. Parents who, in some cases, are taking their kids out of private school to get them into a public school. A
school so happening, kids want to book time there on the weekends.

The Lesson: When music programs are truly relevant and motivating to kids, you don’t need to Save The Music. Music can save the school.

Welcome to Kids On Stage, in Leipers Fork Tennessee, where the first thing you see is a wall of electric guitars donated by Epiphone. Where a digital recording studio donated by Mackie looks out on a stage with pro lighting and acoustic treatments, and a Mackie SR40•8 console and six M•1400 amps are in the front-of-house position.

Spend a day in the best middle-school music program in America and you’ll understand the gear is the least important thing getting turned on. It’s the kids. Rick Wheeler, KOS Director, gives a kid a chance to “be somebody.” Turning the typical “school music dorks” cliche on its head, Wheeler’s “music kids” Rule the Cool in this school.

The goods news is, KOS’ success is spreading. KOS II, in neighboring Maury County, is being built from the ground up. Right there on the blueprints in the middle of a structure labeled “Arts Wing” are the words “Recording Studio.” As KOS summer program volunteer teacher (and songwriting powerhouse) John Hiatt once remarked about Kids On Stage, “I wish the high school I went to was half this cool.”

Us too, John.


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