ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. Back in April, the president-elect, then candidate Barack Obama, spoke in a high school gym in Pennsylvania.
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: When I was a kid, and I think most people who are old like me - and some of you kids won't remember this - but I mean, you always had an art teacher and a music teacher. You could be in the poorest school district in the world.
SIEGEL: Well, these days, all kids do not have art and music teachers. During the campaign, Mr. Obama proposed what he called an Artist Corps. It would be a kind of domestic Peace Corps for artists. They would work in low-income schools and communities. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, there is already a model in development for musicians.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: The idea is called MusicianCorps. It's being developed by Kiff Gallagher, and he's already got the Obama transition team's attention. First, some background. Gallagher grew up singing and playing piano. About five years ago, he left a successful career - he was president of a socially conscious business association - to work on his music full time.
(Soundbite of song "How It Feels")
Mr. KIFF GALLAGHER (Musician; Founder, MusicianCorps): (Singing) You want your freedom, your control, and your casual flings. Suddenly ring, ringing...
BLAIR: Gallagher started performing at clubs around San Francisco and caught the attention of folks in the music industry.
Mr. GALLAGHER: Some major labels were calling me because they dug my record, which was flattering and exciting.
BLAIR: But things with the record labels never worked out. So Kiff Gallagher decided to combine his background in music with his experience in public service. In his 20s, Gallagher worked in D.C., first in Senator Joe Biden's press office, then on Bill Clinton's campaign. He also helped create AmeriCorps, which now has about 75,000 members. Gallagher's idea for MusicianCorps would be similar. In exchange for a year or two of service, musicians would get health care and a living stipend.
Mr. GALLAGHER: I mean, nobody's going to get rich doing this, but the vision is that there's about 50,000 young people graduating with music performance degrees, and there's a lot of schools and after-school programs and communities that want to bring music.
BLAIR: Kiff Gallagher says he's talking to everyone about MusicianCorps. During the campaign, he served on Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. His idea has been endorsed by prominent economists and educators and even Governor Mike Huckabee. The Aspen Institute named MusicianCorps one of 10 nonprofit policy proposals that would strengthen U.S. communities.
Mr. MIKE BLAKESLEE (Senior Deputy Executive Director, National Association for Music Education): It's a great idea because we do have a shortage of music teachers.
BLAIR: Mike Blakeslee heads up the National Association for Music Education. He sees pros and cons to the MusicianCorps idea. He says the music teacher shortage is primarily in the low-income school districts that MusicianCorps would target. So there is a need. But he also says it takes years of on-the-job training to become an effective music teacher. For now, MusicianCorps calls for only a summer training program, and Blakeslee thinks that may not be enough.
Mr. BLAKESLEE: Because in addition to being able to navigate the bureaucracy of schools and to deal with discipline issues and lack of facilities and all that other stuff, a music teacher has to be a good musician too.
(Soundbite of music class)
Unidentified Children: Just like that.
Ms. IRIS TATE (Music Teacher): I love that song. Do you like that song?
Unidentified Children: Yeah.
Ms. TATE: Can you sing it one more time for me? Come on.
BLAIR: Iris Tate has been teaching music in D.C. public schools for 23 years. She has two degrees in music education. She's worked in both affluent and low-income neighborhoods and says there is a big difference. She, too, likes the MusicianCorps idea, so long as they first talk to some veterans of the classroom.
Ms. TATE: It might scare them if they hear some of the horror stories.
BLAIR: Iris Tate is now teaching at Leckie Elementary, an inner-city school where more than half of the children are eligible for free lunches. She says teachers in this setting need to have patience and love.
Ms. TATE: The thing of it is, is understanding the children from the inner-city. They come from various backgrounds. And some of them don't have the love, they don't have the attention that they need. And a lot of times, if they're starving for attention, they're going to do all kinds of things to get your attention focused on them.
(Soundbite of music class)
Ms. TATE: OK, come on. Help me. Oh, you can tell me in a minute. I want you to sing the song, though. Come on, ready? Go.
BLAIR: Kiff Gallagher is committed to making his MusicianCorps concept a reality, with or without support from the Obama administration.
Mr. GALLAGHER: I hope that MusicianCorps can create new opportunities for musicians to both be creative and true to their craft, but also to contribute to society in a way that goes beyond just traditional commercial entertainment.
BLAIR: MusicianCorps was just awarded its first big grant. The Hewlett Foundation gave it a half million dollars for a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area. As for support from the next administration, the Obama transition team is recommending the creation of an Artist Corps that would partner with private initiatives like Kiff Gallagher's. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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