by Deborah Walden
Country music icon Keith Urban took the time to speak with Nashville Arts Magazine about his commitment to music education. Urban was one of the initial supporters of Music Makes Us, and his generosity helped the program become a reality. As members of Nashville’s art community, Urban and his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, are helping to change the lives of a generation of young people in Music City.
NAM: Why was it important for you to support Music Makes Us?
KU: For a lot of reasons. This program is particularly interesting to me because it’s going into the public schools. When I was going to school, music played a much bigger role in the curriculum. To tell a quick story, when I was in grade ten, a lot of us kids were musicians really, but the curriculum was set up in such a way that we were struggling to get access to instruments, because I went to a public school and there just wasn’t a lot of support. My music teacher at the time was desperately trying to come up with ways to change that, and she wrote a musical. The idea was for us all to perform this thing at a theatre and it would be part of our grading for the year, part of our examination—even though it wasn’t actually in the curriculum. Ultimately, the idea was vetoed, and my teacher was so distraught by the constraints of the curriculum that she ended up quitting and trying to find other ways that she could help kids. I think that whole passion level that she had has always stayed with me, and I think that’s probably the basis of my desire to help kids in school get more access to music education and music instruments. And in this case, the program is trying to bring it into a public school system where you don’t have to be from a well-to-do family. It’s really an expansion of the music education available in the schools, so I think it’s a terrific program.
NAM: Is it important to you that Nashville schools have strong
KU: Absolutely, because it is Music City USA, and I think that encompasses everything musical. Regardless of genre it’s really important for us to live up to that name.
NAM: How do you think Music Makes Us will change the lives of Nashville students?
KU: The first answer is that we don’t know. That’s the beautiful thing. I think there are a lot of kids who are talented in a musical way that haven’t even realized it yet. I think there are a lot of kids who struggle to communicate and articulate and connect and have not found a way to do it yet. And I’ve seen it with kids who stumble upon an instrument or even another area of music like engineering or songwriting. They suddenly find this connection—it’s another voice. You know, I’ve got two little girls, and my wife and I see it all the time, that as soon as they hit the age where they can communicate, everything changes. I think it’s the same thing with getting music instruments into the hands of kids when that’s going to be the way they communicate.
NAM: Do you think music should play a greater role in our schools?
KU: I think that’s important. There’s so much emphasis on sports, and I think sometimes the arts take a backseat to it. And you know, the thing about music to me is it’s not just about making a living from it. The first, the very most important part of it for me is this ability to communicate; that’s the thing I find to be the most powerful about it. And the sense of joy that it can bring. You can sit in a little room and play your acoustic guitar to nobody and maybe you only play two chords, but if you can play a song—you see people’s faces light up when they can figure it out. At its very basic level, having music instruments available, just like sports equipment is available in schools, allows us to see if that is something that a student is destined to be connected to, and if they are it could totally change their life.
NAM: You and your wife support the arts in Nashville. Why is that important for you as a family?
KU: Nic loves to support local art. She’s fantastic at seeking out some of the local theatre. As a matter of fact, we just went to see The Secret Garden performed by the Street Theatre Company over on Elm Hill Pike. We took our little girl Sunday to see it, and it was great. Nic is always seeking out those kinds of performances to support local theatre. We’ve seen about three or four productions by the Nashville Children’s Theatre in the last year. Having kids, of course, is a big part of it. But for Nic, it’s where she got her start. I can see it. She sees those kids and she sees herself in them. It’s really beautiful.
NAM: Do you think people are surprised by the way that country music artists support music education in Nashville?
KU: They shouldn’t be surprised by it. Community is at the heart of country music. It always has been.
Keith Urban will participate in a special Country Music Hall of Fame educational program for selected Metro Nashville high school students on September 6 at 10am CDT. All Access: KeithUrban will be livestreamed at www.countrymusichalloffame.org and www.keithurban.net.