Interview with Keep Music Alive co-founder Vincent James, conducted by the Make Music Alliance in May 2022
How did Keep Music Alive begin?
My wife and I founded it. It started as an informal organization back in 2014, when we launched a story search for a book series that is called “88 Ways Music Can Change Your Life”; it’s like a “Chicken Soup for the Music Lover’s Soul”, with inspirational stories about how music impacted different people’s lives. The concept for keep Music Alive organically grew out of that.
What are the main activities of Keep Music Alive?
In March of 2015 we started Teach Music Week, where we work with music stores and schools to offer a free music lesson to kids and adults, to inspire people to get started on their musical journey. There are now over a thousand schools and store locations in about a dozen countries that participate each year. About a year after that we started Kids Music Day on the first Friday in October; for this, we partner with the same locations around the world to offer some sort of event or promotion that benefits or celebrates kids playing music. That could be an instrument petting zoo, kids open mic, a student performance in house or in the community, an instrument donation drive, pretty much anything they can think of that benefits or celebrates kids playing music. In addition to these two major programs, year round we do Musical Instrument Petting Zoos.
How did you start playing music?
When I was in elementary school we were offered a chance to play a musical instrument; first I wanted to play guitar and drums, but guitar wasn’t offered, and my parents said no to the drums. So, I picked up the trombone and played in bands all the way through school, which was an awesome experience. When I was about 10 or 11, my mom convinced my dad to bring a piano into the house, because she had always wanted to learn the piano. I saw her learning and I was drawn like a bee to honey, asking when can I start. I took classical piano lessons for about 3 years and then I taught myself to play pop music, took a few lessons on guitar, and I’ve been writing and playing ever since. I think of myself as a semi professional musician. I have a full time unrelated job, but music has always been an extremely important part of who I am.
What are your goals and visions for Keep Music Alive?
We want to continue growing the organization, working on our fundraising to be able to support a small staff so that we can support 100-120 instrument petting zoos per year, and we also hope to do some sort of local grant program where we have grants to award instruments to schools or students that have a specific need. We want to continue to live in that space full time.
It’s wonderful that you include adults as well as children in your beginner music programs; how do you invite adult beginners to get involved?
That is very important to us. For Teach Music Week, our partners offer a free lesson to anyone who is interested, kids or adults. The Instrument Petting Zoos are generally geared toward kids, but we often have parents come in who are interested in learning, so we talk to them and give them ideas about getting started and point them in the right direction. I can’t count how many people come up to me and say “I always wished I had learned to play the piano” or guitar, whatever instrument they are interested in, and we always tell them it is never ever too late to start. One guitar student I had didn’t start playing guitar until he was 80 years young! He worked with me for 5 years until the pandemic came, and then we had to stop, but it was a great experience for him. His wife would talk about how it was so valuable, he got so much joy out of it and it helped to keep his mind clear. There are so many benefits to playing music for adults as well as for kids.