By Deborah Walden

Nashville is famous for its yearly CMA Music Festival. The red-carpet event draws attention around the world for its glamour and memorable performances on stage. What most people don’t know is that 90 percent of the band instruments in Metro Nashville public schools are supplied through the festival. For decades before 2006, Nashville schools did not have a budget to purchase new instruments. Instruments were scarce, and those that could be found were in states of disrepair. Everything changed when the CMA Artist Relations Committee, headed by Kix Brooks, chose to direct half of the net proceeds of the CMA Music Festival each year to music education programs. What emerged is perhaps the most important music program in all of Metro public schools: Keep the Music Playing. Nashville Arts Magazine spoke to Brooks and to CMA community outreach manager Matt Seaton about Keep the Music Playing.

Seaton says, “Since 2006, we have given over $6 million in gifts. The actual gift this past year was $1.4 million, with $1.2 million going toward Metro Nashville public schools.” Brooks says that supporting music education was a central concern for the CMA Artist Relations Committee when they developed the program. He states, “I think music education is the one place all of us have an interest. I was shocked when we started this initiative that there was basically no music in public schools in Music City! Someone had to step up and make this happen, and who better than the artists who have been blessed by these talents and the support of their fans?”

It is because of Keep the Music Playing that Metro schools have band programs and music classes and the new game-changing Music Makes Us program can be put in place. Brooks appreciates the way in which Keep the Music Playing gives all students access to music education. “We all realize for these young people music can give a sense of pride, that a lot of kids aren’t able to get on the football field or somewhere else—and having visited some of these schools in less affluent areas, I realized what a healthy escape music is for some of these kids. It gives them somewhere to go beside drugs or worse. Also a lot of these inner-city kids have nothing to go home to. They are some of the ones you see hold on tightly to their instruments and practice nonstop for hours. They are the ones we have given a sense of hope and a magic place to go with their talent. Sometimes these gifts we give can be far more important to a young person’s life than people realize.

Seaton believes the benefits of Keep the Music Playing go beyond band classes. “I think the biggest thing that we have realized in doing this is that music is such an important part of a well-rounded education.” Proceeds from the CMA Music Festival also help inspire students with the opportunity to perform. The Keep the Music Playing All Star Concert gives elementary, middle, and high school musicians the chance to take the stage at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

The All Stars Marching Band, made up of the top band students from Nashville’s high schools, steals the show in the Kick-Off Parade for the CMA festival. For Brooks, such performances capture the spirit of the program. “Just seeing these kids who have learned and practiced and loved and taken it seriously give a performance and get a standing ovation, you realize these instruments we bought didn’t wind up on a shelf or in a toy box somewhere. The smiles you see on these kids’ faces say so much. The magic of music is a very special gift indeed!”


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