Metro Nashville Public School Music Teachers Give Back at CMA Fest

Winding through the packed streets of Downtown Nashville are five nondescript vans, distinguishable only by the signs on their sides that read “Press Express.” These are the CMA Music Fest Media Shuttles, and to make sure journalists and photographers get where they need to go, the drivers are working nine-hour shifts — without pay.

They are all music teachers in the Metro Nashville Public School, and they’ve volunteered their time based solely on gratitude. CMA’s charity initiative, Keep the Music Playing, donates half the net profits from the Festival to purchase instruments and equipment for Nashville’s public schools.

“CMA stepped it up for us, so I figured I could step it up for them,” said Shane Kimbro, 38, the band director at J.T. Moore Middle School.

For years, Kimbro has been organizing fundraisers for his program, selling cookie dough, chocolate and coffee—“whatever we can do to raise money,” he said. Receiving the instruments from KTMP has lifted a huge burden for Kimbro and his fellow music teachers.

“Last summer, I opened boxes with $14,000 worth of instruments,” said Donna Taylor, 55, the music teacher at Glengarry Elementary School. “I was overwhelmed. I thought, ‘This is totally going to change the way I teach.’”

Taylor estimated that 92 percent of her students receive free or reduced lunch, and the school has students from all over the globe, including Iraq, Mexico, Somalia and South America. Most of them are still learning English, but Taylor has found a way to bridge the gap.

“Everybody speaks music,” she said, demonstrating how she teaches them to clap to a beat. “They don’t have to speak any English to do that.”

But Taylor does try to help those students learn basic English words, putting simple commands—march in a circle, sit down — to music so that non-native speakers can copy their classmates and associate the actions with the lyrics.

The language barrier isn’t the only problem music can solve. Pat Nobles, 54, one of two music teachers at Amqui Elementary School in Madison, Tenn., deals with students from all socioeconomic classes.

“As long as you treat all the children firm, fair and consistent, then no matter who they are, no matter what their situation, they’re fine with that,” Nobles said.

Nobles worked with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Words & Music program this year, creating songwriting teams between fourth-graders and professionals. Four students’ pieces were performed for the entire grade, and Nobles said she couldn’t have been more surprised.

“I mean, my jaw just dropped. They were not the children that I would have thought could have pulled something like this off,” Nobles said. “One fella—a big old honkin’ football player kind—wrote about a lonely butterfly wanting to find a friend. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’”

The teachers all agreed that music can pull potential from students who never believed they had it. Kimbro remembered one young man who struggled for a year and a half to learn the tuba.

“One day he was getting a little better, and all of a sudden I saw him go, ‘Wait a minute, I got this!’ And I was like, ‘Click!’” he said, imitating a light bulb. This student had made B’s and C’s for most of his life, but he was on the principal’s list with straight A’s by the end of the year.

“He’s about to go to college with a $13,000 scholarship,” Kimbro said proudly. “I’m really appreciative of CMA for what they’ve done. There are kids who are going to college on music and academic scholarships because they’ve opened these doors, and that’s changing lives. What’s more important than changing lives?”

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