As tax revenues continue their decline, many states such as New York face tough decisions as they try to enforce spending cuts, hurting families and reducing necessary services in the process. Now they're asking local school boards to cut even further into their budgets. Falling test scores are also a concern, which has prompted educators to add extra reading and math classes that crowd art and music electives out of school schedules. From Runt To Rock-Star When I think back to my own education, the music programs weren't exactly thriving either. Sure, my teacher was fun: he loved the Beatles and encouraged singing "When I'm Sixty-Four" and “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da” at any given opportunity. But he didn't inspire me to seriously consider a career in music. The real life-changer came when I witnessed an infamous ad-lib delivered by Bono while the rest of U2 plowed through their version of the Jimi Hendrix classic "All Along The Watchtower" on the documentary of their 1987-88 Joshua Tree tour Rattle and Hum, "All I need is a red guitar, three chords and the truth!" But how would I magically transport myself from the sleepy English village I lived in to the brightly lit stadiums of America? Well, that would obviously take practice and lot's of other stuff my nine year-old logic couldn't quite grasp yet. All I knew was the nylon-string classical guitar my parents bought for me the following Christmas didn't look anywhere near as cool as the black Fender Telecaster that The Edge (U2’s guitarist) had been using during his piercing solo . . . But that brings me to the main inspirations behind my development into the career musician I am today: my family. How I protested those music lessons! I did, however, attend them gracefully and I practiced outside of them. After a while I realized my guitar practice had replaced the time I used to spend building whole worlds out of LegosTM. While my parents' marriage was ending, you wouldn’t find me in a therapist's office or participating in high-jinks with the lads; I was focusing on my guitar playing. I had a few different teachers, from the guy who played to the elderly at a local care facility to the bass player who taught guitar (and probably secretly wished he was the guitarist in his band) to the shredding speed metal dude (whose hair only I could possibly have found to be cool back then). The point was that they were all professional in one aspect or another and part of that professionalism is teaching, whether they’re part of an institution or not. After four years of playing my grandmother realized this was not a childhood whim and helped me buy my first electric guitar and amplifier. She and my Mum continued to encourage me through lessons (which, due to their expense, became “treats”) and instructional videos (which were usually birthday and Christmas presents). One Saturday morning when I was fifteen, my Mum said she had a surprise for me. “Bring your guitar, we’re going to London.” A couple of hours later, we arrived at Musicians Institute in Canary Wharf. It was a satellite school to the main campus which famously stood just off Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Of course, I knew that almost all of my heroes were alumni of this prestigious establishment, but couldn't imagine in a million years that I'd have a chance to attend a school like this! Well, I did and, after my audition, they even gave me a scholarship to do so. My mother couldn’t take me up there every week, so my uncle chipped in to help with transport. My grandmother made sure I always had pocket money for food. When I look back on my formative years as a musician, I realize with a great sense of pride and gratitude that it was my family and not the local education authority that inspired and supported my musical career. Their creativity at finding help outside of the classroom became the foundation I relied upon so heavily for my musical aspirations. A fresh $1.5 billion in cuts were announced for New York in March. At the same time, schools have found inventive ways of using the very music programs that are threatened to combat budget cuts. Manhattan’s East Village Community School released the album Songs From The East Village to raise funds. In Yonkers, a talented 12 year-old girl has taken to YouTube in the name of her sixth grade teacher to sing “On My Own” from Les Misérables. References: Bishop, M. (2010) East Village public school fights budget cuts with music. WNYC.org. Retrieved from http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2010/sep/20/east-village-public-school-puts-out-fundraising-album/ Johnson, N., Oliff, P., & Williams, E. (2011) An update on state budget cuts. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1214 Moran, C. (2004) Low note sounds for music education. San Diego Union-Tribune. signonsandiego.com. Retrieved from http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041119/news_7m19music.html Saunders, S. (2010) Budget cuts hit wrong note. NYSUT.org. Retrieved from http://www.nysut.org/nysutunited_15803.htm Sidebar: Music Camps Summer camps were not a common activity in England, but if I’d known about or had access to the American music camps back then, I know I’d have been there like a shot! Where else can you experiment with different instruments, surround yourself with like-minded individuals of varying skill levels, and be inspired by teachers who are passionate about their craft? I’d say that sounds about as close as you can get to a supportive family.