This article is copyright 1996 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the Illinois Music Association Illinois Music Educator, Vol. 56, No. 3, Spring 1996. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.


The Illinois Music Advocacy Book:

a Coalition Project for Us All

by Antonio J. García, Coordinating Committee Member

Illinois Coalition for Music Education

It's concert night; and following the event you're in the lobby, greeting those who attended. A couple approaches you, the man saying, "You know, I used to sing in my high school choir; and hearing your students perform was just terrific!" The woman adds, "It reminded me of when I played french horn in elementary school. But now that I have my own business, I never seem to have time to make music myself." You smile, perhaps inwardly shrugging them off a bit as you greet the next audience members, who speak a variation on the same theme.

WAIT! STOP RIGHT THERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Don't disregard these kind folks! They are your best allies: cultivate them! You and your students have just inspired them to speak out to you about their musical past. But that's literally preaching to the choir–why not inspire them to speak out to those who would cut music programs?

The Best Tools for the Job

Nay-sayers don't care about the aesthetics of music. Against the issue of finances, you can't adequately defend music programs on the basis of artistic beauty. And while the ever-increasing piles of studies and statistics show that music training stimulates intelligence, even such documented truths ring hollowly on the ears of some community school boards faced with budget cuts.

But imagine if you could arrive at such a budget-cutting meeting with a stack of letters from community businessmen and women, civic and political leaders–parents and future parents–who will stand up for music education as an essential part of their formative lives....People who'll say, "When I was growing up, music kept me going, made me feel whole, brought me firm friendships, taught me leadership, teamwork, creative risk, and more. Cutting the music program from my school would have harmed me as much as axing the math curriculum. I wouldn't be where I am today without music education." Now that would get the attention of the school board. And those are the tools you need for the job ahead.

Imagine if a local business leader offered you the following statement:

"...Stronger preparation in arts education will lead to world-class competitiveness on the part of our citizenry at large, and in the academic, business, and professional communities in particular. Through the knowledge and practice of the arts comes an appreciation of multiple interpretations and an understanding of standards of excellence. Inventiveness has been the hallmark of American character; I believe comprehensive and sequential instruction in music and the other arts will enable our children to cooperate and compete more effectively with the other nations of the world."

Or if your mayor declared:

"I believe that as a part of the educational process, each child should have access to a music educational program. That is a part ofa well-rounded education and can provide so much joy, now and in the future."

Or if an acclaimed youth counselor in your area insisted:

"Music education builds children's confidence in themselves, teaches self-discipline, encourages creativity and cooperation, and bridges differences between cultures, time periods, and socioeconomic groups. In short, music provides a critical vehicle for everything we would like to teach our children in school today."

Such support is not myth; the above statements were provided by Richard S. Gurin, President and CEO, Binney & Smith; Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mayor, New York City; and Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D., Director, Psychologist, Family Achievement Clinic; Clinical Professor, Case Western Reserve University. And Gerald R. Ford, Former President of the United States, says simply:

"Involvement in music, as a student or good listener, is one of the finest ways that a child can learn about our society. Music education opens the doors that help children pass from school into the world around them–a world of work, culture, intellectual ability, and human involvement. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music."

These quotes, and many others, are available to you in MENC's book, The Gift of Music, (183 pp., available for $18.60/members, $22.50 non-members via 800/336-3768). Yet as forceful as they are, wouldn't you be served better by statements of support from leaders–taxpayers–in your area?

An Illinois Testimonial

Why don't we have such an assembly of Illinois letters ready to go? After all, I'm always telling my students to collect letters of recommendation regarding the value of their work–have we stopped doing the same? Or perhaps our own programs seem safe for the time being; and given how busy we are teaching, who has the time?

I submit to you that we must make the time. Perhaps you're thinking, "I don't need to do this now: my program's not threatened." If you're teaching high school music, you'll soon be feeling the effects of cuts in your feeder schools. If you're teaching elementary school and aren't threatened, consider this a favor to your colleagues around the state who are facing cuts–and pat yourself on the back for being ready when your program is confronted. And if you're teaching in higher ed, you should know full well how what happens around you will affect your program–and your audiences. The time to prepare for fighting fires is not when all the trees around you are already ablaze!

The good news is that there's no cost, you probably already know where to look for your contacts, and the rewards in community support will undoubtedly surprise you. For when I discuss with alumni of elementary and secondary programs why they have never put forth a letter in writing about the importance of music education in their lives, the unanimous response is: "Well, I guess it's because nobody asked me to do it!"

Just Do It!

So let's ask! Think about the business, political, and civic leaders in your community–the taxpayers of your community. Think about those who populate your Chamber of Commerce, your Rotary Club...and your community bands, orchestras, and choirs! Heavens, think about your alumni rolls: all those former students who passed through your music program (under you or your predecessors) who are now successful in their non-musical lives! Do you ever notice how many of the annual Chicago Tribune "Top 10" and "Top 100" Illinois high school students are participating in their school's music ensembles? Now there's a database I'd like to tap! Who are the leaders and innovators around you? Don't you think that many of them have something strong to say about how important music education was to them–and how vital they believe it to be for their own children? Make this an annual project of the music parents or boosters: write letters themselves and identify others in the community to do the same.

You'll notice I haven't expressed interest in collecting letters from successful musicians regarding the importance of music education. It's not that I don't value their input, but I realize that the last thing that's going to convince a board not to cut music ed is a letter from a musician about how a music career is an important option. We've got to garner the collective voices of those whose careers are not in music–but again, that definitely includes collecting letters from so many people who still play or sing in their community music groups.

The Request

Here's a sample letter you can use to make contact:

Dear _______,

I am working with other music educators to defend and (when possible) strengthen the position of music education programs against potential cuts or–in many cases–elimination. We are collecting statements from area business, political, and civic leaders as to the importance of music education–not because of the beauty of music, but because music education was essential in developing them into the leaders, the creators, the innovators, the team-workers, the socially perceptive people they are...regardless as to whether or not they still play an instrument or sing in any community format. Such a collection would be made available to music educators in need of proving how important music ed has been to so many who might not even be making any music today!

Would you be willing to send me a few sentences about how you view the importance of music education in developing who you are today–and if you view it as an important part of your children's growth? A short paragraph on your letterhead would do; and if you would be willing to forward to me a portrait photo of yourself as well, that would be useful in quoting you.

For your perspective, I've included a few quotations from some well-known figures below; but I wish to emphasize that I'm not really looking for duplication: I'd like to hear a few sentences about why music education has been important for your own development.

I appreciate your time in considering and acting on my request. I believe that you represent just the kind of community leader whose voice should count in a community decision.

Best regards, _____________

The Results

Motorola, Inc. is a company recognized internationally for its excellence, innovation, and leadership. In response to my request for assistance, Michael Winston, Motorola's Vice President and Director of Global Leadership and Organization Development, enthusiastically supplied a detailed letter of support, excerpted below:

Economic and political conditions. Global competition. New technology. Increasingly complex world markets. Scarcity of natural resources. The business world today moves faster and is more highly volatile than ever before. In this age of unprecedented turmoil, the challenges of facing and successfully managing the uncertainties of the future are everywhere.

In the economy that is emerging, traditional ways of competing have reached a level of parity in which businesses can no longer easily distinguish themselves solely on the basis of quality, technology, product, or price. The ability of an organization and its leadership to conceptualize and manage change–to compete from the inside out by increasing its capacity for change–has become a competitive advantage in itself.

In a business environment characterized by change, there are many new challenges that simply did not exist a decade ago. Meeting these challenges calls for intensive and continuous development processes that provide today's business executives with frequent chances to flex and exercise their decision-making skills and continually update their professional skills.

In the competitive world described above, I attribute my ability to survive and even thrive during difficult times as being, in part, a direct result of lessons learned during musical education studied while growing up. It can be said that the quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. The factors that spell out the essence of leadership and excellence, whether in the arts, in athletic competition, or in a highly competitive business battlefield, are similar and deeply imbued in one through early musical education. These include:

• The vision to achieve high levels of mastery.

• The drive to pursue that vision of excellence regardless of the obstacles confronted.

• The discipline to practice the rudiments, the fundamentals, until they become second nature.

• The wisdom to understand that self-sacrifice is necessary to achieve the highest levels of perfection.

• The insight to understand that the lessons learned through attempts at mastery of any craft can be applied throughout one's life.

• The willingness to internalize ever-higher standards of excellence.

Not everyone has a Motorola Corporation in their neighborhood, but you certainly have important businesses in your area that pay vital taxes to your commmunity. Imagine if you, with the aid of your music parents, collected even ten letters a year from noted community leaders who would stand up for music education on non-musical grounds...just ten! By the time your fall freshmen graduate and you have forty such letters in your file and the Coalition's, you'd be in a lot stronger position to defend your program than you are. And you just might need those letters in four years.

Do you know how many IMEA member-teachers are in this state? If even fifty teachers across the state gathered ten letters a year to forward to the Coalition, by the time your freshmen graduated we'd have 2,000 letters on file for anyone's use in defending their programs. Imagine what 2,000 letters–from community leaders across the state who defend music education as an essential part of a young person's development–would do for you the next time you have to fend off the nay-sayers!

And if we don't do it, we have only ourselves to blame: it didn't cost anything, we didn't have to organize anything, we didn't have to meet anywhere, we didn't even have to compose the letter...we just didn't do it. If that happens, we can't point to our communities for a lack of support: we never asked for it.

Think about it. Do it. Forward the original letter (and the author's photo, if possible) to:

Illinois Coalition for Music Education

c/o IMEA

19747 Wolf Road, Suite 203

Mokena, IL 60448-1360.

And thank you for fighting the fire even before it threatens your home.

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." –Henry Adams

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

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