How Capitol Community Rocked 3 Teachers’ Worlds (and Curricula)

How deep does music go? Can it change the way you see history, your community, or your work? Three New York State teachers just found out, thanks to Capitol Community, a joint effort by HeadCount and Port Chester, New York’s Capitol Theatre.

IMG_6261As a Westchester County native, I grew up hearing stories from my parents about shows at The Capitol Theatre (affectionately known as “The Cap”). My dad often relived that time he jumped on stage during a Marshall Tucker Band show (and immediately got kicked out). The venue closed in 1997, so I would have to wait until its revival in 2012 to see The Cap with my own eyes.

A year later, not only have we been treated to some great music at The Cap, but the theater has also sent three area high school teachers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for curriculum training. Here’s how it all went down….

When Peter Shapiro, a venue owner with a knack for drawing top acts to unexpected spaces (he also owns Brooklyn Bowl), decided to reopen the legendary theater, he had more in mind than just a place for great music. He knew from the very beginning that he wanted The Cap give back to its community. He’d gotten a taste of helping others in his days at the helm of The Wetlands Preserve. And, as a board member of HeadCount, he looked to us (I’m HeadCount’s Artist Relations Director) to put the pieces together.

Together, we created The Capitol Community. For most of The Cap’s shows, the best seats in the house — the Presidential Box — are auctioned off to raise money for headliners’ favorite charities and send local teachers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Summer Teachers Institute. The three 2012 scholarship winners (selected out of nearly 20 great applicants) had, to say the least, the time of their lives.

IMG_6248I don’t think any of us could have imagined the impact that this program would have on the scholarship winners, but after sitting down with the three recipients and Gary Stern of The Journal News to hear of their experiences, I left inspired. The energy that filled The Capitol Theatre as they talked about how meaningful their time at the Hall of Fame was made every minute we’ve given to this program worth it. New Rochelle High School’s Martin Billig, a sociology, history, and philosophy teacher, summed up for me what the experience meant for him:

“First, being treated not only as a professional, but literally as ‘family.’ We established a great bond, and we came together as educators, historians, with a deep respect for a music form that has been a soundtrack to our lives and a reflection of the times we’ve lived through. The museum is a must for anyone that has had their life affected by rock and roll. I am so indebted to the Capitol Theatre for getting involved in this program and being one of the first selected to attend.”

As Gary Stern explains in The Journal News, “seasoned musicologists explained to them how all the exhibits tie into the larger context of America’s popular, cultural and even political history,” a lesson not lost on the committed educators. Riverside High School’s Richard Kauffman put it in perspective. “You had blues, country, folk, gospel, all these roots of American music grow into the varieties of rock that emerged. And with the British Invasion, all these American blues musicians were going to England, and you had all these rock bands starting.” Martin Billig added, “Then they brought it back here as the invasion. There was all this crisscrossing of cultures and influences. That’s the lesson.”

Cap Comm 2These three teachers show us that music education isn’t just about teaching a student how to play or read music. It’s about taking diverse subjects and using music to help students access the material. As Rye Neck High School math teacher David Grazioli has it, “Rock is meaningful. It ties into emotional things. You have memories spurred by songs and artists. If you can tap into that, you can make a real difference.”

Huge thanks to all of the staff at The Capitol Theatre for helping to make this happen and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for giving our scholarship winners the experience of a lifetime.

We’ll be sending more teachers to the Rock Hall next year. Make sure to check out the Journal News’ excellent article here for more information on the program. And if you want to sit in the best seats in the house at The Cap and make more teachers’ dreams come true, visit www.headcount.org/capitolcommunity.

Tell your friends!