Local musicians playing for a cause

Children sit Indian style on the classroom floor of Thomas Lay Community Center as Carl Lindberg plucks on the strings of his upright bass. The children stare, wide-eyed and spellbound as they listen to the music being made right in front of them, most have never seen or heard such an instrument before.

Community centers across the Athens such as Thomas Lay, Rocksprings Community Center, and East Athens Community Center are witnessing scenes such as this every week in a new program, AthFest AfterSchool.

AthFest is a non-profit corporation with the mission of educating citizens and
visitors about the music and arts scene of Athens, GA. Since 1997, AthFest has organized an annual festival in downtown Athens to showcase the incredible musicians, artists, and businesses of the community. What most people don’t know is January 2009, AthFest introduced a revolutionary way to showcase Athens music through AthFest AfterSchool, a series of music-focused educational performances for children in the Athens area.

The goal of AthFest AfterSchool is to expose students to all aspects of music, from musicians playing instruments to the recording and production process.

So far, there have been eleven performances in after-school programs at area recreation centers with plans to bring the program into local schools.

“As Athfest’s mission as a non-profit is to promote education of Athens music and arts, its only natural that we would look to our schools as our next way to promote our cause,” said Jared Bailey, director of AthFest. “Public school systems aren’t able to make room in their budgets for music programs like they do for say English or math. Who’s to say music education isn’t as important as math? I personally would argue that it is.”

Apparently Bailey isn’t alone in his sentiments.

A study released by The National Association for Music Education shows that the vast majority of school administrators interviewed believe that music education has a powerful and lasting impact upon their students, making music education an essential element of every child’s education. In fact, 96 percent of public school principals interviewed believe that participating in music education encourages and motivates students to stay in school longer, and 89 percent agree that music education contributes to higher graduation rates.

“I was at one of AthFest AfterSchool’s first performances by Joel Byron of Grogus,” recalls Jennifer Kumnick. “Byron did a performance for a large group on a Chinese violin. All the kids laughed when they heard the strange sounds coming out of the instrument. They loved it! Each of the them wanted to go up and touch it and see how it worked.”

Kumnick is a social worker for Clarke County School District who has worked closely with AthFest AfterSchool since its inception.

“Bailey and I were on several committees together and when he mentioned the ideas for such a program, I offered to be his connection to the school system,” said Kumnick.

AthFest AfterSchool is designed as a continuation of the state set curriculum of music education, such as chorus or band practice, already in place. The program is targeted at mentoring children, specifically middle school students, to get them thinking about music as a possible creative outlet.

In the future AthFest Afterschool hopes to introduce programs not just in after school programs but in the classroom as well. They also hope to present aspects of music business to the program.

“We want to expose them to new kinds of music that they might not have know are out there,” said Kumnick. “One of our goals is to introduce music business as a possible career path and have presentations from not only musicians, but also song writers, promoters, producers, and managers to share their experiences in the music businesses. We want to get the kids thinking: this is something cool I could do with my future.”

“AthFest AfterSchool is a win, win situation,” said Bailey. “Not only are we providing music education to the future of our community, but we are also providing an opportunity for local musicians to make a little extra money. Every bit counts for local artists, especially now with how bad the economy is.”

AthFest AfterSchool is made possible by a grant from Grassroots Arts Program (GAP) of the Georgia Council for the Arts. According to Clayton County Arts website, GAP is designed to encourage regional collaborative efforts that maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of arts programs and services. Activism at the local or regional level ensures that decisions are made by individuals who are most informed and concerned such as Bailey and Kumnick.

Because the AthFest AfterSchool’s grant is just $ 2,000, they’ve had to do some creative fundraising to make the program successful. Last June REM donated a signed Gretsch guitar, which AthFest auctioned off on Ebay with all proceeds going to AthFest educational programs. This year Widespread Panic has offered to donate a guitar for auction.

Artists to perform for AthFest AfterSchool so far have been Carl Linberg and Joel Byron of local music group, Grogus as well as by Jason Harwell, Rebuilt Records president and recording artist. Every performance has been acoustic to keep the setting as quiet and intimate as possible.

Carl Lindberg founder, producer and director of Grogus, plays upright bass, congas, percussion, and guitar. Lindberg jumped at the chance to help with AthFest AfterSchool. At Lindberg’s performances he has played the guitar, African drums and stand up bass for groups of children of all ages as well as discussed how different instruments are used and how he writes songs.

“I think it’s a really beautiful program because I get to share culture with young people and expose them a style of music they wouldn’t necessarily hear on the radio and might not hear at school or at home,” said Lindberg.

“I’m excited to share my love of music with the kids of Athens and plant the seeds of self expression in the young generations.”

This Friday will be the first of many AthFest AfterSchool presentation at a local school, Coile Middle Schools with many performances expected to follow.

AthFest is actively seeking musicians interested in participating in AthFest AfterSchool and local educators who are interested in bringing the program to their schools. More information can be found on http://www.athfest.org. Please contact Jennifer Kumnick for more questions about participating in or donating to AthFest AfterSchool at education@athfest.org

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