Among the many topics discussed at the initial Spirit of Harmony Foundation meeting, during which Todd, Jean and I signed the letters of incorporation creating the foundation, I told Todd of the long range goal and vision I had for the foundation. The first was to elevate him to “head of the class” for music education advocacy, the next Bono, eventually placing him center stage for a global musical event, raising awareness and funds for music education. Todd chuckled, but didn’t disagree! With that, advocacy would be central to the mission of the newly conceived Foundation. Having made this commitment, I needed to devise a plan for the first steps.
The inspiration did not take long to present itself, provided by my friend and colleague Jim Cushinery, the CEO of Arts-Work Foundation, promoting education through the arts. He produced a video testimonial, consisting of big name actors, to help raise funds. EUREKA!! I had my idea. With Todd’s help, I was going to get the biggest names in rock n roll to tell us their personal stories of how their early exposure to music education transformed their lives. And why not start at the top?
Todd was about to embark on another tour leg with Ringo’s All-Starr Band, which would wrap up with two shows in Las Vegas. What could be a better way to start a new foundation’s advocacy program than to have a Beatle? It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Todd embraced the idea, but was hesitant as to whether we could get Ringo to participate; the other guys were enthusiastically on board. With some gentle prodding of Todd to talk to Ringo and some guarded optimism, I was confidant Ringo would agree. Knowing it was still a tremendous opportunity to interview the other band members, I arranged a shoot in Las Vegas.
My other concern was that I had never conducted an interview. What was I going to do? The answer came pretty quickly, as Todd’s fan base consists of people, seasoned in pretty much every profession, including a TV news anchorman. Ken Owen and I have known each other for many years and he eagerly came to my aid. We had several conversations, during which we developed some themes to touch upon. The best piece of advice was to just get them talking; they will gladly tell their stories. He was right.
With the generous support of John Humphries of Earth, Wind and Sky, a local Las Vegas production company who provided equipment and his technical support, we set up a two camera shoot in my hotel room. First up was Todd, delivering a message to the fans about the birth of Spirit of Harmony and why doing this work is important. Then one by one, each member of the band came into the room and passionately spoke about their background as well as how important it is that children have music education opportunities.
Their education backgrounds were varied, from very formal to self-taught, however, the outcomes were all the same. Not only did they become accomplished musicians, but they spoke of life lessons learned, the personal and interpersonal skills acquired, the transformative, perhaps even life-saving, effect learning to play a musical instrument had on their formative years.
As individuals, they all spoke about how playing an instrument developed self-esteem and identity, important for any young person’s development. Playing taught them self-discipline and how to overcome the challenges and frustrations of learning anything new. Playing music made them feel good about themselves, as stated by Greg Rolie, “Music comes more from the heart, then the mind; when you create it, it just makes you feel good.” As young people, the act of creating imbued them with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Steve Lukather revealed how “painfully shy” he was as a kid and how, as a result of playing music, he broke out of that shell. It was a powerful moment, sitting across from him and seeing the sincerity on his face. Mark Rivera spoke of his childhood on the rough streets of Brooklyn, NY in the ‘60s, about how many of his friends carried knives, while he “carried a guitar and saxophone.” Many of those childhood friends “either ended up in jail or dead.” Music literally saved his life and revealed to him a bigger world, far afield from the corner candy store. Going in I didn’t expect to be hearing these types of stories; I couldn’t help but be further inspired to do this work, build the foundation and accomplish our mission.
Playing with others and skills acquired was also touched upon, and like the individual skills, they all had a shared experience. Playing in a band, whether it be a rock band or an orchestra, they acquired keen listening abilities, learning how to work as a team supporting each other, as well as the important socialization skills, personal and professional, required to be successful in life, whether as a musician or not. Kevin Ellman, a founding member of TR’s Utopia, stated that the skills acquired as a drummer are utilized daily in his current profession as a successful financial advisor. He said that his role as a supporting player in a band mimics his role supporting his clients, aiding them to reach their financial goals. Being a good listener allows him to gain important insights to help clients to first determine goals and devise a plan to fit their stated objectives. Kevin also noted the importance of being able to read body language, as he and John Siegler (bassist and also a founding member of TR’s Utopia) discussed their relationship in the band. As Kevin stated, “We didn’t need to speak. I can just look over at John, read his facial and body language and know exactly where we were going musically.” When sitting across from a client, he employs this skill to gain further understanding of their needs and goals.
Collectively, the video testimonials produced thus far have had a profound effect on the still-forming vision and mission for the foundation. They have provided us with real world insight and experiences as to the true nature and impact a music education can have on a young person’s life, regardless of whether they have the talent and strive to pursue a career as a working musician or choose another professional field, as well as in their personal lives. The importance of possessing the ability to read the non-verbal cues from ones’ spouse or children cannot be overstated.
A few other people have lent their voices and stories to this effort…
Kasim Sulton, in spite of being injured at the time of the interview, shared how, as a young boy, he fell in love with music, commenting that “there is nothing more powerful as a beautiful chord change; nothing moves me as much as a beautiful lyric.”
Richard Page spoke about how his parents, both musicians, influenced his decision to pursue a career in music. However, his mother wanted him to play classical music. “Her dreams were dashed once I heard The Beatles.” Influence of family, having music playing in the house to expose young people to it, was another theme that was consistently spoken about by all these musicians.
Ralph Schuckett, keyboardist and founding member of TR’s Utopia added, “If kids were exposed to more of this stuff, they would just have more of an open mind…true art breaks down those barriers…it speaks to the basic needs of human beings.”
Paul Stanley from Kiss was hanging around backstage before the Ringo show, and Todd wrangled him to jump in front of the cameras. He spoke of his lifelong dream to play music and how important it is for kids to have that opportunity as well.
As for Ringo, even up until the day before the shoot, I was still unsure if he would agree to record a testimonial. While I was driving to Las Vegas, Todd emailed me a couple of times regarding the next day’s production schedule he formulated. The last email was a simple matter-of-fact…”Oh BTW Ringo agreed to record one.” Good thing I happened to be eating lunch and not driving as I might have crashed! I was beyond elated for many reasons; later that evening Todd told me how he made it happen. While flying from LA to Las Vegas, Todd reminded all the guys about the shoot the next day. At that point he turned to Ringo and asked if he would record one, with the enthusiastic reply from the rest of the band members, how could he say no? We had our Beatle!! Nice going, Todd!
Ed Vigdor is Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. Ed has been a professional Post-Production Director, videographer and producer since 1984, having worked for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, The Cimarron Group, The Ant Farm, Intralink Film Graphic Design, and others. A close Rundgren associate for over 30 years, Ed produced “Toddstock: All Excess” and the “A Wizard A True Star Live” concert videos.