“If you want peace, you won’t get it with violence.” That’s direct quote from John Lennon. What does that have to do with Un-Block The Music? Everything. Music has been and will always be a snapshot of society and a catalyst towards change. John Lennon spent a good part of his life writing about and talking about making the world a better place. He said, “Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.” Even 39 years after his death, John Lennon’s anthem of peace continues. And in light of what happened in Santa Clarita, California yesterday, this story is even more important.
Un-Block The Music visited the The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus during the Audio Engineering Show (at the Javits Center in NYC) a couple of weeks ago and sat with its founder Brian Rothschild to talk about how the bus continues to evolve technically as well as socially. It’s not the first time I have had the pleasure of writing about the tour bus. I interviewed Brian in 2007 for Billboard when the bus was celebrating its 10th Anniversary. The Bus is essentially a state-of-the-art mobile audio and HD video recording and production facility. It travels around the county to schools as it is dedicated to giving students the opportunity to participate in workshops. Readers need to understand how phenomenal this bus truly is..there are three on-board engineers who live on the bus. They work with students to write, record and produce original songs, music videos, documentaries and more. And, they do it all with high end equipment. This bus makes a difference in the lives of many students who would never be exposed to anything remotely like this.
It all began with the John Lennon Songwriting Contest which was started in 1997. The contest has been and continues to be open to amateur and professional songwriters. There are 12 categories of music and two sessions per year. There are 24 Grand Prize winners, 12 Lennon Award winners and one final song of the year.
“We have had winners go on to do amazing things. One of my favorite stories is that of Meghan Traynor who was the winner of our first love song competition. (“Waterfalls”).” And, the competition has great judges from all walks of music including John Legend, Post Malone and George Clinton. The next deadline is December 15. Go to this website for information https://jlsc.com/about.php
All entry fees from the contest help support the tour bus which originally hit the road in 1998. What students learn on the tour bus cannot be duplicated in a classroom. But, it’s even more important now with music classes and after school programs are being continuously cut from public school education. “Lately our focus has been on public schools in the U.S., kindergarten through 12th grade. In the last few years we have focused on residencies that bring us to communities for more than a day. Increasingly we have been forging relationships with municipal governments. For example, in New York, we are in our sixth year of residency as part of the Come Together program allowing us to work with students from all five boroughs.” And, with the help of the Mayor’s office and the city council The Bus also been able to provide opportunities for the public to see it. “It dove-tailed really nicely this year with the AES show,” Brian added.
“To make the biggest impact, we want to use the Lennon name to advocate for music education, digital media education, and lately, we have also been focusing on gun violence and have been asking kids to talk about their ideas to end it. In the face of all of the tragedies students have faced in terms of violence, this bus is helping to give them an even louder voice.”
Brian explained further. “A couple of years ago, we began developing a curriculum that we call ‘Come Together’. We came up with 15 words that we thought were the core words of the program, such as Peace, Love, Empathy, Truth, Equality. We talk about tough topics like immigration and guns.”
In September of 2018, “we kicked off our New York residency on the steps of City Hall. We kicked off with a “Bed-In” for student activism…taking a page from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed in” for peace. Yoko, Ringo Starr and Jeff Bridges came. They were surrounded by kids. We are all committed to student activism,” Brian said.
Un-Block The Music commended Brian on his courage and he said, “I am afraid, but if we don’t all speak out for change, than we are lost. You don’t like something the way that it is…you need to express yourself.” Music is one way to do that.
In terms of educating kids about recording and production, the tour bus is working with school districts to dig deep. For example, in the last two years, the bus has worked with New York City Council members who are given funds for Cultural After School Adventures (CASA). “We have been involved in several of these programs. Lennon Bus crew members work with the teachers after school once a week for a whole semester. We are trying to make an even deeper commitment to New York.” The reality is that funding comes largely from corporate sponsors so it takes time, but they are working on a plan that would have a bus just for NYC.
Philadelphia and Los Angeles have also been hot spots for the tour bus. They have gone to Strawberry Mansion High School alongside the Grammy Music Education Coalition. That school, in a tough part of town, was about to close, but it has undergone some revitalization and “we want to show our support for that continuing trend and go deeper perhaps grow it to a residency in 2020 and beyond.”
Also launching in 2020 in association with Recording Academy and Coalition is a Grammy week residency. The bus will be parked at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the duration of Grammy Week. “Celebrities, Grammy winners, and nominees will be producing live music and talk around music ed, gun violence, peace, climate, and other issues of interest to students. The idea is to use Grammy week to ‘Come Together’ with celebs that want to support them. And also, to use this as the launch for ‘Come Together Los Angeles’.”
This brings us back to the goal of ending gun violence. “In August, we started to contact local groups trying to find out what people’s perspectives were. We also reached out to national gun groups. We realized that we have to forge our own path. Mark Barden, the managing director of Sandy Hook Promise visited the tour bus at AES. He had seen the City Hall event, and as a former musician, he wants to be involved. “We are talking about doing a Lennon Tour with Sandy Hook Promise in 2020. They have programs in all 50 states.”
Sandy Hook Promise’s intent is to “honor all victims of gun violence by turning their tragedy into a moment of transformation by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.”
John Lennon said, “If someone thinks that peace and love are just a cliché that must have been left behind in the 60s, that’s a problem. Peace and love are eternal.”
More about the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus tomorrow.