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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


Please email me at Info@Bmansbluesreport.com

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bman's Exclusive Interview : Josh Coen - Blues In Schools

I had the opportunity to talk with Josh Coen of the Rainy Day Blues Society (Eugene, Oregon) about their Blues In Schools program and how it is growing.

Bman: Hi Josh. I appreciate you taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with me. I've been hearing about your "Blues In Schools" program. Can you tell me how that came about?

Josh: Like most blues societies, The Rainy Day Blues Society, here in Eugene has a mission to educate the public and preserve America's foundational music form, The Blues. Before I got involved, the blues society did a few random programs for local schools. But in 2007, I joined the committee and knew that for the program to be effective and taken seriously by the schools, it needed to have a standardized curriculum and regular scheduling. I worked on that for the first year, including creating all the necessary materials and gathering volunteers, and relaunched the program in 2008.

Bman: Wow! That's a lot of work! What exactly does your program entail?

Josh: We teach various blues and music-related topics and skills so that kids know that music is an important part of life and that they can use it to express themselves and create something that is uniquely theirs. We also want them to realize that blues is an original American music form that helped create jazz, rock, R&B, hip hop, and so many other genres. We address these subjects with bite-sized workshops that include songwriting, singing, harmonica, history, rhythm, musical expression, and one about famous blues musicians and their instruments.

We also give out harmonicas, blues comic books, FREE LESSON passes, and 20 free blues
song downloads.

Bman: That's really cool! What age groups are involved in the programs?

Josh: Grades 3-12 in the classrooms. But our longer programs include a mini
concert in the gym at the end and the entire school, all the way down to kindergarten is invited for that.

Bman: So is your program a one day seminar? How exactly does it work?

Josh: We offer three formats, depending on the school's schedule. Two of them are 50-90 minutes and are ideal for auditoriums. The other is up to 2.5 hours and takes place in the classrooms.

Bman: Are you conducting this class yourself or are they being taught by school employees? How exactly does that work?

Josh: I really love it when the community gets behind giving back to our kids and schools. So,we involve as many local musicians and volunteers as we can. Currently, that's around 35 different people each year. We might go into schools with 10 or 12 different musicians at once. The kids love meeting local "celebs" and the musicians love the feeling they get when teaching our local kids.

Bman: That's way cool that you can get the local musicians involved! So describe a typical day in this program.

Josh: During our first program, called The Opener, a narrator takes kids on a journey through the blues and a group of musicians bring the story to life through music. We involve the kids in the storyline, get them to interact with us as much as possible, and when we have time, we do some songwriting with them and get them up to do some rhythm with the band.

Our most popular program, called The Tour, is up to 2.5 hours. It takes things to a whole other level. We send in six teams of musicians simultaneously to six different classrooms.They each teach a different aspect of the blues for 20 minutes before rotating to the next classroom. After two hours, the kids have had a hands-on, interactive blues experience. This program ends with a mini concert for the whole school where the kids get to use what they just learned... singing their songs with the band, playing harmonica, joining the rhythm department.

Bman: So do the students need instruments?

Josh: When we teach the harmonica workshop, we give each student their own Mississippi saxophone. We teach train rhythms and the Hoochie Coochie Man riff so they can play it later at the concert. We also bring in rhythm instruments for the kids to use and always encourage any student with an instrument of their own to join the band for the concert. None of our other workshops require the kids to have instruments. In fact, we encourage them to do like they used to do in the South ... make their own.


Bman: Very cool. I can see why it's so popular. So I understand that you are taking your program to other districts/schools. How is that working out?

Josh: Our first year of offering the program consistently, we did monthly programs for 750 kids in one school district. We currently do two programs a month and reach nearly 5,000 kids each year throughout 5-6 districts all within our county. Some of these schools are pretty rural, which makes it even more fulfilling because these kids are starving for stuff like this! And, of course, we do this all free of charge to the schools. We get sponsors and grants to cover our expenses.

Bman: That's absolutely terrific!! Are you looking to take the program to other states?

Josh: The Rainy Day Blues Society serves Oregon only and we pretty much
focus on our county, as there are a few other blues societies in our state who cover the other areas.

However, I have recently launched a company called Blues Comix (www.bluescomix.com) and publish the world's first comic book specifically for blues education programs.


The comic book tells the story of the blues, from its roots in the Delta to its move with the Great Migration to bigger Northern cities like Chicago, and finally to its transformation into rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s Personalized For Your Program

The last page and back cover are designed so that we can personalize the comic book with your local blues information. This is included FREE with your order! This not only enables you to give inspired kids local places to find more blues, but it makes it possible to include sponsor and blues society logos — a key element in underwriting the cost of distributing the comic books!

Features...

• A compelling storyline

• History lesson

• Geography lesson

• Reading practice

• Songwriting lesson

• Autographs page

• Local resources page

• Sponsors page

It's designed to get kids excited about the blues, learn why the African-American people created it, and basically fill in all the gaps that a typical blues education program simply doesn't have time to present. We use it in the Rainy Day Blues Society's programs and the kids love it. To help others in the United States and around the world do something like we are doing here in Eugene, I put all the experience and knowhow that I've gathered over the last five years into a 20+ page curriculum and program start-up guide. I offer this free with every bulk comic book order. I really make it easy and cost-effective to start up a successful program quickly.



Bman: How do others get involved if they want to do one of your programs in their area?

Josh: Like I mentioned earlier, most blues societies have as part of their mission to give back to the community through programs like Blues in the Schools. Check with your local blues society and see what's in place. Unfortunately, since they are usually volunteer-run, they may have been struggling with starting up a program or keeping one going. The one I developed works really well and I would like nothing more for anyone else interested in running a program than for them to take advantage of our trials and errors, experience, and successes. I want to see every blues society have a program as successful as ours. That's why I am giving away my curriculum and "How-To" advice with every comic book order.

Bman: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. Do you have anything else that you want to share with my readers?

Josh: Make this the year your blues society, your band, or even just your local group of music-lovers starts up a program that enriches the local kids. They are our future. It doesn't matter whether they ever become blues lovers. What matters is that they know that each one of us can express ourselves through music that it can transform sorrow into joy; and it can become something they treasure throughout their lives. How many of us adults have said, "I wish I had taken up an instrument or stuck with the one I started as a kid?" Plus, like many of the kids we visit exclaim, "This was the best day of the school year!" I can just about guarantee that those musicians or volunteers going into the schools to make that happen are also feeling the same way. I'd be happy to answer additional questions from anyone wishing to start up a program. Just e-mail me at harpdaddy@comcast.net.

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