It’s pretty simple. If you are going to live a life of significance, it will have to be one which serves other people.
No matter what your challenges, you still have gifts. These gifts are your responsibility to find a way to share which affects those around you, (in this virtual age that could be anyone, anywhere). And whether you do it on a small, or grand scale, you’ll change the world. A world changed, simply because you lived.
Challenges, gifts… a story. Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (113): Believe in Music
Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.
With an equal opportunity for all to sing, dance and clap their hands.
Stevie Wonder, lyrics from Sir Duke
You really can feel it all over. Just ask Kenny Liner (or Stevie Wonder). They say it’s love that makes the world go round, but you could argue there’s something else… music.
The idea for the program called Believe in Music was born during a beautiful sunset on a cliff in Oregon, but let’s face it – the idea was truly born the same day Kenny Liner was – February 23rd, 1979. Though it hasn’t been an easy road.
“I had kind of a rough childhood”, says Kenny. “I ran away a lot. I didn’t ever really feel like I fit in. I got kicked out of middle school, high school… it was a rough path, but music was always the thing that kept me motivated and made me better. When I couldn’t get into college, I moved to Hawaii. A friend gave me a little plot of land in Maui, we lived off the grid, with little electricity and I learned to grow my own food and survive.”
But Kenny didn’t just learn to feed his body, he learned to feed his mind – with books, tons of books – about his favorite topic: music. But there came a point it was time to stop reading and go back home.
“My grandmother got sick back in Baltimore, and so one day my mom asked me to come back from Hawaii to help take care of her, she needed round-the-clock care. I came home and worked at a grocery store to pay rent for an apartment. I also got wind that Chris Jacobs moved back to Baltimore and started a band.”
That band became The Bridge, a jam band known for their live performances, combining elements of blues, folk, funk and bluegrass. The Bridge developed a big following in the Maryland/Washington area and for a decade, (2000-2011), toured the country and western Europe.
“I was grateful and blessed to be a professional musician”, says Kenny. “But after doing it for ten years I realized the time was up. I just thought, and maybe this sounds controversial, but being in a band can be a really self-absorbed, selfish way of being, a selfish way of living and I just thought I wanted to do something to help other people.”
Kenny continues, “I moved to Portland, Oregon and basically started to sort of meditate on life. While on a cliff in Portland, meditating and surrounded by beautiful mountains and the deep gorge below, it went off like a light-bulb in my head. I could take all the lessons I learned and use them to better the people around me, not just better me. And I knew it needed to happen back home in Baltimore.”
Music knows it is and always will
be one of the things that life just won’t quit.
Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke
Kenny was ready to go from playing the music in his head, to sharing the music in his heart. That’s what it takes to help others believe.
The idea behind Believe in Music is to empower youth through technology and music education by projecting self-expression. Kenny says he thought about music education before he started the program and looked at all the options, not just in Baltimore, but everywhere and saw there was a need for reform.
“There are so many benefits from creating your own music and playing for people, benefits you don’t get from simply reading notes on a paper and playing in a band, or an orchestra in school. I came up with Believe In Music from the the need to create some kind of change in education and find cool ways to teach kids and involve computers, because most of music being made today is on computers… and you can make a computer sound just like an orchestra.”
Kenny continues, “My program takes inner city kids and we partner with some great organizations like the Green Street Academy where I teach, and the Penn North Kid Safe Zone. The schools don’t have funding for a music program, so we come in and teach music. I want to keep my commitment to helping the community and do the grass-roots organizing and give kids the opportunity they deserve. Growing up in Baltimore it’s easy to see two parts, the “haves” and the “have-nots”, but every young person deserves the same opportunity. I want to give it to kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity.”
The program is working. It began in 2011 with about half-a-dozen kids and this summer they are helping about 60 kids a day. Making music, finding fun ways to learn about music theory and rhythm and writing and creating their own music as well. (You can help the Believe in Music Summer Program, to donate: https://www.crowdrise.com/believe-in-musics-summer-program/fundraiser/believe-in-music-inc)
A true turning point for the program came shortly after the uprising in Baltimore in 2015. Some middle school students from Believe in Music got together with local musicians to write a song of healing, Believe in Baltimore, it gained national attention, with the students performing live on the Meredith Vieira Show in New York.
Kenny says it was a “huge deal” for the kids to be on national TV and for the parents to get involved as well. “The best feeling”, says Kenny, “is watching parents get excited about what their children are doing. I love seeing that.”
Kenny says he also loves having such great support from someone who brings music to his heart, his wife Jess. “My amazing wife helps me – she helps me so much – I couldn’t do any of this without her. She helps me providing support emotionally that no other person has been able to do. Even my employees say my wife is the boss and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her. There have been huge financial sacrifices as well, (Believe in Music is a non-profit), and months where I could not afford to pay myself, but she came through financially for us working as a massage therapist. We are definitely a team.”
Every dream needs a team and if the dream to keep Believe in Music going and growing is to come true, it will need help from the community and worldwide support. “We are like every non-profit in Baltimore”, says Kenny. “We sometimes struggle to pay our operating costs, it’s hard to get funds and we are just starting to get grants. That’s been great, some great things are happening.” (You can help fund Believe in Music year-round: (http://webelieveinmusic.com/)
All who participate and help teach the children of Believe in Music know it is part of a higher calling. As Kenny says, “it’s a true opportunity for real expression for other people to understand where my students live and where they come from. People who don’t work where I work, or see what I see don’t understand what it’s like to be there. Baltimore is like two cities and one of my biggest hopes and dreams is we break down that wall and really create one Baltimore.”
You just have to believe, especially in the power of music. But what does music really mean to Kenny Liner?
His answer tells the rest of the story: “I think music is such a powerful thing. It’s a vehicle to give. When you give you empower a young child with music in a way they can understand and use it as a form of expression and be able to tell their specific story that is just their story – it creates a spark that everyone can relate to in some way.
Kenny continues: “The best songs are not specific things, they are about everything. By empowering young people in my city to create music in a safe environment and watching my students grow as musicians and artists and creators, that’s really what it means to me because it transcends – it’s like reading a great book because it takes you out of where you are. A great song can take you really far away, or bring you really close to home.”
“In my life at times when I felt like I had nothing, I always had music. It’s something everyone can relate to. Like Stevie Wonder sings in Sir Duke, it’s a language we all understand.”
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
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