The non-profit association offers children free instruments and lessons
TAUNTON – Word is from a local music store. A young student was forced to give up his weekly drum lessons due to financial difficulties. The student is heartbroken, but there seems to be no viable solution.
Well, not so fast.
Rawkstars, Inc., based in East Taunton and founded by part-time/full-time musician and philanthropist Jonathan Jacobs, exists precisely and exactly for times like these.
In fact, such a scenario unfolded recently. A retired grandmother who adopted her five grandchildren after the death of her son and the children’s father and her own husband could not afford drum lessons for her 11-year-old grandson years. The shop owner alerted Rawkstars. Jacobs says the young drummer didn’t miss a lesson.
“I told him, ‘We will pay for his lessons from now on. We got it.’ She and her grandson are the reason I founded Rawkstars. That’s what we do,” Jacobs said.
Currently, Rawkstars Inc. funds music lessons for 17 financially disadvantaged youth in various communities across Massachusetts, and Jacobs says that since the organization’s founding in November 2003, Rawkstars has helped more than 400 young musicians at various stages of their development. , mostly beginners.
In most cases, Rawkstars helps young musicians who need an instrument and a teacher to get started. But Rawkstars is also here to help existing talent find their way and has helped musicians with recording and music video projects.
“Anything really about kids and music, there’s a good change that we’ve made or are interested in making,” Jacobs said.
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“I founded Rawkstars to help kids get rid of the barriers that keep them from getting involved in music and then learn the life skills I learned through music. If they become great players, that’s great. If they become amateurs and have fun with it, that’s great too.”
Jacobs, who plays bass for a local band and is a lifelong music lover, made a career in music as a recording engineer with several national and world rock and hard rock tours, found his way to the IT for a while and then, fittingly, landed at his current employer, Pawtucket, RI-based Hasbro, where he works in global philanthropy.
In 2003, he wanted to get back to music, one way or another. He thought of a business venture, but quickly chose to create a non-profit organization with the power to help young musicians learn to play and pursue their talents.
“Our stuff is really scalable,” he said. “We don’t have a specific place where you have to go in our facilities, and we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We simply act as a conductor. We connect people and give them the resources to make it happen.
Find an instrument, and maybe not just any
“We want the child to fall in love with the instrument,” Jacobs said.
Sometimes, he says, that first instrument is the first step in a lifelong love for music.
“So we care about color, we care about style, and we try to match the kid’s personality with the right instrument.”
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Jacobs says Rawkstars gets a lot of donated instruments and tries to use them, but quality and playability – which doesn’t have to mean expensive – are as important for new players as they are for pros. And in some cases, the color and style of the instrument — think guitar or drums — can go a long way in attracting a new student. A fun and difficult to play instrument is not a good starting point for many children.
When possible, says Jacobs, a new instrument is the way to go.
“We buy new instruments for many children. And the reason we do that is we could save a few bucks by giving them something used, but I think it’s really important for them to have a valuable instrument that they can fall in love with. Especially in the beginning, because music is an expression of your personality, so we want it to fit you and feel like it’s an extension of yourself.
On occasion, Jacobs brought in new students to purchase instruments, while also setting a budget and presenting a few options.
“It’s like, ‘Which one speaks to you?’…I think it’s important, for kids, to have a personal connection with their instrument.”
Music education is a long-term commitment and doesn’t come cheap
Once in hand, lessons are the gift that keeps on giving, and a monthly expense that never stops.
“The expenses are quite significant,” says Jacobs. “To get into it, just getting started with an instrument can cost a few hundred dollars, which for a lot of people is a hurdle. But lessons are really a deal breaker for many people, even if they can get a used guitar or scrape enough for a cheap instrument.
“The lessons are an ongoing expense, month after month.”
In general, half-hour weekly lesson plans can cost between $125 and $150 per month.
“It’s for a month. And let’s say you have two children, that’s per month, per child.
“It’s not something you can do for a few weeks or a few months and then you’re set, right. Often we have students in our program for years and years. It’s really quite a big expense for them. »
It is a colossal expense even for those who can cover it. For some families, that’s just not feasible.
A musical mentor and more
In many cases, students in the Rawkstar program benefit from some point of consistency in an otherwise inconsistent home environment. A good teacher and a nurturing music program can build confidence, instill study skills, and focus on other areas of education and provide a role model.
“It goes far beyond music lessons. Of course, that’s at the heart of it all, but that music teacher often becomes a true mentor to the child, not only teaching them piano or guitar or whatever the instrument is… but becoming a friend and a mentor in many ways. Because the child, they view the teacher as being competent in something they want to learn.
“I’m a 12-year-old kid and I want to play guitar. I see my music teacher once a week and he’s an amazing guitar player… I don’t have a dad around, or home life is tough, and this guy can kind of play that role . It’s regular, they go there every week. A lot of kids don’t have that kind of consistency in their world.
get up and play
As part of the fundraising program and operation, Rawkstars organizes music shows and concerts that encourage children in the program to take to the stage and perform in front of an audience. Past events have taken place at The Narrows in Fall River and Rick’s Music World in Raynham, which has a performance area and stage.
“We like to introduce kids, give them a chance to play music for a crowd,” Jacobs said.
“If you played music and got up and played in front of people, it prepared you for those times, even if you didn’t realize it. It gave you confidence, showed you that you can make a few mistakes and you’ll be fine. Imagine the confidence boost you get from the performance aspect. We think that’s really important too. It’s not just about practicing and learning scales or learn songs.
Taunton Daily Gazette editor Jon Haglof can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette today.