This article was written and submitted by Skip Chaples.
Eight years ago a young man studying music at NOVA was tragically shot to death. His parents wanted something positive to come from it. Three neighbors who knew their son stepped forward and established the Aaron Brown Chapter of Guitars not Guns in northern Virginia. Over the years the chapter incorporated as GnG NCA, enhanced the program format and curriculum, and branched out to include DC and the neighboring counties in Maryland.
GnG NCA’s affiliation with Guitars not Guns ended in early 2013 and a new organization, Music for Life, took form. The three neighbors, Skip Chaples, Betsy Stone and Gloria Dawson began their music program journey in 2006 serving 24 students at three northern Virginia locations. They integrated their work with others serving the community and adjusted their program and curriculum as necessary to best address current needs. Their new organization, Music for Life, served 579 students at 38 metropolitan DC area locations in 2013. They’re on track to exceed 700 students in 2014.
Music for Life helps those burdened with adverse circumstances become successful. The program provides skills and guidance necessary for students to overcome their circumstances and become contributing, self-sufficient adults. Their focus is on improving lives; music education is the vehicle they use. While their students may enjoy a lifetime of guitar playing, most will not pursue a career in music. The discipline, confidence and social skills students learn in Music for Life will serve them well regardless of the career path they choose.
Music for Life expanded their original offering of acoustic guitar lessons to youth to include drumming instruction and classes for underserved adult populations, and soon will offer electric and bass guitar lessons. The organization also donates to other music organizations committed to the inclusion of low-income students in their classes. Other significant accomplishments during 2014 include music instruction to 17 adults coping with mental illness in a job training facility, an “Introduction to Music “class for teens in foster care, supporting NAMM with guitars, drums and teachers to provide a music learning experience to over 100 youth at an underperforming DC school, operating a guitar summer camp in a low-income housing project, and providing drums for therapy sessions at a girl’s juvenile detention center.
Music for Life operates, in their student’s communities, a music program that stimulates their educational interests and builds their confidence so they can overcome the barriers and deal with the stresses inherent to their situation. Studies show that bringing programs into neighborhoods is the most effective way to reach those who are not engaged, improve their attitude and reduce crime and gang activity. Research also shows a strong correlation between music education and a person’s success in life. Those involved in a quality music program tend to do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, are less likely to engage in risky behavior, and more likely to take advantage of positive opportunities made available to them. In addition to its educational value, learning music also releases stressful emotions that can’t otherwise be expressed. Music is particularly powerful because it appeals to people of any age, gender, race, religion or cultural background.
Despite the proven, positive effects on a person’s well-being and success, financial pressures on both government and families are making music programs less accessible and/or affordable to an increasing number of people. You can help Music for Life fill this void by volunteering to teach one hour each week. Beginner classes address the basics and prior teaching experience is not required. There are immediate needs in Arlington, Chantilly, DC, Fairfax County, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas and Sterling. Music for Life hopes to also start new classes in Montgomery and Prince George Counties. If you’d like to learn more or can help, please contact Skip Chaples at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.musicforlife.org.