Giving Back

How the NAMM Show Makes a Lasting Impact on Elementary Students

Every year, NAMM Show volunteer offer music instruction at an Anaheim elementary school — part of a partnership that’s helped the school district retune its music program.

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 17:  NAMM Foundation Day of Service at Patrick Henry Elementary School on January 17, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for NAMM)
Foundation Day of Service at Patrick Henry Elementary School on January 17, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for NAMM)

Out of the hundreds of photos snapped at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation’s Day of Service this year, there’s one that Mary Luehrsen, the foundation’s executive director, can’t stop thinking about. The image shows Chris Martin, chairman and CEO of C.F. Martin & Company guitar manufacturers, stooped over a fifth-grader, curling his own fingers to demonstrate the proper digits-on-strings position. In the background, several other volunteers do the same.

“That photo will be emblazoned in my mind forever,” Luehrsen said. “That is the essence of why we’ve done this.”

The Day of Service kicked off the 2017 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, this past January, as it has for the last three years. NAMM volunteers and expert music instructors spent the day at a local elementary school, introducing 120 students to various instruments and presenting a $10,000 donation. Before the Anaheim Elementary School District connected with the NAMM Foundation, it had no instruments or music teachers, according to Superintendent Linda Wagner, Ed.D. Now, between NAMM’s annual Day of Service, donations, and help with curriculum development, the 18,500-student district has 13 music teachers and assorted ensembles, including choirs, orchestras, and mariachi bands.

This year’s Day of Service was on Jan. 17 — two days before the NAMM Show began. NAMM shuttled volunteers to Patrick Henry Elementary School, where a musical presentation started things off. Then fifth- and sixth-grade students broke into four groups and, joined by NAMM volunteers, rotated through 30-minute music-making sessions devoted to drums, ukulele, guitar, and singing and movement. The morn-ing culminated with an assembly and giant dance party.

ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 17:  NAMM Foundation Day of Service at Patrick Henry Elementary School on January 17, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for NAMM)
(Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for NAMM)

“You’ve got 90 kids who have  probably never played a guitar before  or never played a ukulele before or never knew they could dance,” Luehrsen said. “There’s a lot of  excitement and pure joy going on through the whole Day of Service.”

CEOs or similarly high-level leaders of music-product companies who relish the opportunity to work directly with kids for a day rather than sitting behind their desks or in the boardroom. Many of them return for the Day of Service each year; this year, there were 35 of them. 

“We’re also a means for them to come together as a community,” Luehrsen said. “They’re all competing brands for the most part, but it doesn’t matter what label’s on the guitar that day. It’s about creating the education experience.”

Luehrsen came up with the Day of Service in 2014, after a phone call from the mayor of Anaheim. He explained that the newly appointed Wagner wanted to resurrect its elementary-school music programs, and asked for donations from NAMM — whose 100,000-plus-attendee show has been held in the destination since 1977. Luehrsen told him that gear and mate-rials would only get the district so far in its goals.

“The district likes to say that they asked for a fish but we taught them how to fish,” Luehrsen said. “They came to us asking for specific requests to fill empty instrument closets. We said, let’s look at this differently and teach you how to build a curriculum that can be sustained and that is paid for with and through your education budgets.”

The media has also been interested in the event from its inception. Local news outlets often cover the Day of Service, and the mayor’s office and Visit Anaheim have been known to make appearances. As a result, Luehrsen said, the Day of Service also “became a way to create a lot of news and energy and excitement.”

But really, it’s about doing good in a way that reflects NAMM’s mission. For meeting professionals looking to try something similar, Luehrsen says it’s imperative to work closely with whom-ever you’re trying to serve. She recommends becoming true partners rather than forming a leader-follower relationship — because that’s the only way to be sure you’re making the right kind of difference and building something that sparks long-term change instead of a short-lived makeover. “You have to go in and really listen,” Luehrsen said, “if you want to do something that is going to truly help the  complicated needs of a community.”

 

Molly Petrilla

Molly Petrilla is a freelance writer based in Collingswood, New Jersey.