Move over Jack Black. There’s a new rock and roll teacher in town.
Tom Morello, famed guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, has found a new target for his indignation: underfunded music education in public schools.
Morello has teamed up with the nonprofit Music Will to launch music programs in 20 schools across the country, which means he will be shredding in a lot of auditoriums.
This week, he brought his axe to Van Nuys High School to celebrate the opening of its music program and the opportunities it creates for underprivileged students.
“It acknowledges the fact that everyone has a musical artist within them,” explains Morello. “Because there’s often a lot of barriers … lessons might be hard, they might be expensive, your school might not have a music program. And so they really make it completely accessible for every person to play any sort of music.”
Known for his on and off-stage antics, Morello didn’t miss an opportunity to add some pizazz to the event in Van Nuys.
“I played some shredding guitar for them, and then got hundreds of high school kids up on stage with me for a version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land.’ We unveiled the equipment, the gear, and then they brought it back to the music room and began jamming,” he describes.
Morello believes in access to music for everyone, which makes him deeply concerned that arts programs are often the first to get axed.
“Artistic expression is a fundamental human need. … I know for me, music was both an inspiration and a life raft,” he says.
Music Will helps fill the gap left by budget cuts, and Morello explains that their approach to music education meets students where they are.
“They provide the kind of music programs that the kids want,” he says. “If they want to make hip-hop beats, or if they want to sing country and western songs, or if they want to be a heavy metal drummer, all of that’s available to them.”
Morello’s desire to bring music to more kids is rooted in his own experience growing up. A self-proclaimed outsider, music provided a space where he could connect with people on a deeper level in his small, conservative Illinois town.
“When you actually are able to find expression through an instrument or playing in a band, and that sort of camaraderie and the chemistry, there’s really nothing like it,” Morello describes. “I think that young people really need to be able to tap into their own creativity, their own expression, to help them determine who they are, who they want to be.”
As exemplified by his own music and activism, Morello believes that music is also a tool for social change. He wants the students at Van Nuys High to feel politically as well as artistically empowered.
“What I hope they take away is a growing realization that they are agents of history, they’re agents of their own destiny, and that … whenever the world has changed, it’s changed by people who are no different than any of those kids in the classroom.”