Carnegie Hall, the Rock School Scholarship Fund, and Casterbridge Music Development Academy in South Africa have partnered to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for music students ages 13–17. Young songwriters are invited to submit their original songs through Carnegie Hall's online community for young musicians, Musical Exchange, for a chance to be selected as one of six US students who will receive mentoring as they collaborate with young songwriters in South Africa. The project will culminate with travel to South Africa with their peers to do musical workshops, experience the culture, and perform their original songs at the Casterbridge Music Development Academy Route 40 Music Festival, opening for some of South Africa’s biggest rock bands.We sat down with the founders of the Rock School Scholarship Fund, Wendy Winks and Carl Restivo, to find out more about the project.
Wendy Winks: I founded the RSSF with Carl Restivo when we were running the School of Rock in Hollywood. The school taught kids to play music by teaching classic rock—Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC—and having the kids perform on stage in a rock band in front of a live audience. The kids learned their instruments very quickly because they were playing music that they enjoyed, and because they had a show coming up! The parents loved it because it was the music they grew up listening to.
With public schools cutting music programs, after-school programs like this one are in high demand, but many families can not afford the $150 to $350 per month tuition. So with the help of one of the dads at the school who was an attorney, in 2010 Carl and I established the Rock School Scholarship Fund, a public charity that provides tuition assistance to kids ages 7–17 who want to attend any rock music school in the USA. We've identified about 300 music schools that teach a rock music curriculum, and we currently work with more than 50 of them in 20 states. It's our goal to work with as many schools as possible. We left the School of Rock shortly after the RSSF was founded, and now our passion for music education is focused on raising money so that underserved kids also have access to the rock school experience. In addition to School of Rock, there are many, many music schools that teach a rock music curriculum.
WW: When Paul Bruce-Brand from the Casterbridge Music Development Academy (CMDA) in White River, South Africa, and I learned about Carnegie Hall's Musical Exchange, the idea of using it to do something with CMDA that would help bring their program international awareness as well as ours, evolved naturally. The infrastructure already existed on Musical Exchange for students from South Africa and the United States to collaborate using the site, and we just needed to develop an interesting program to make students aware of it, and to excite them. We—CMDA, RSSF and Carnegie Hall—started brainstorming ideas for a project that would result in a group of promising and talented songwriter students from the US collaborating with similar students in South Africa. Out of those discussions evolved a competition whereby students submit their original songs, and get the opportunity to have those songs reviewed by one of our VIP judges, and possibly be selected to write new original songs with students in South Africa, and then travel there next December to perform those songs in the CMDA Route 40 Music Festival, opening for some of South Africa's biggest rock bands! While they are there, they will participate in music workshops, rehearse, go on safari, and experience the music and the culture of South Africa. It's an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
WW: We are a young non-profit, but there is a high demand for the service that we provide. We have far more qualified student applications than we have funding to cover, and our hope is to build awareness for what we do and lead to an increase in donations and support. Most of our scholarships are funded by benefit concerts and auctions. The schools that we work with assist with the fundraising, and we've gotten wonderful support from the music community, with legendary musicians including Robby Krieger of The Doors, Alice Cooper, Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, Matt Sorum of Guns N' Roses, Orianthi, and more lending their talents to our cause. But we need much more!
WW: If you were to read the essays from some of the kids who apply, and their parents, it would break your heart. For some kids, music is their life, and rock school is the one place in the world where teachers and other students really "get" who they are. We help lots of kids with ADD, Aspergers, Autism, social anxiety—you name it—really find themselves and their place in the world. And when they do, it has a ripple effect throughout their whole life, and it changes their family dynamic and their future. It's truly incredible what music can do.
WW: This is the first project we've done on this scale. It's very exciting to be partnered with Carnegie Hall and CMDA in South Africa to create an opportunity for a group of talented students to have such an incredible learning experience, and be able to offer that to rock music school students across the US. We are contacting all of the rock schools in the US and inviting them to let their students know about the program, and to encourage their students to submit their original songs and apply.
Carl Restivo: Dedicate your life to the art and craft of making music. Master your instrument. Listen and learn from all types of music. Go to concerts, performances, and shows from artists or bands that you have never heard of. Listen to the radio. Use the tuning button and go in between the stations you have preset. Know whats going on, who's hot, etc. DVR late night talk shows and skip to the musical performances. Study songwriting. Be fluent in different instruments' lingo. Sing. Even if you think you are a horrible singer, you keep singing and you will at least be a good singer. A guitar player , bass player, drummer, or keyboardist who can sing is much more likely to get hired. Say thank you and mean it when you say it to every single person who gives you a compliment. Say hello to people who look sad or lonely. Introduce yourself. Last but not least, be true to your art. Give yourself fully to it. Everything else comes second. Keep going, keep writing, keep performing, keep getting better.
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