Plight of American Music Initiative
American Youth Symphony
prepared by Gregory Charles Royal and Susan Veres
copyright 2005 American Youth Symphony
For Music Education, History, and Sociology Courses
This Discussion Guide is offered as a tool for instructors to engage students in a discussion about the
ramifications of electronic non-melodious music (Hip-Hop, Rap) in mainstream culture. An emphasis is
placed on it's relationship to the future of traditional American musical genre such as the Symphony,
Opera, Broadway musicals, and Jazz.
The discussion can be held in an informal or formal setting during regular class time or as a school-
wide assembly. A special event or educational opportunity, such as Black History Month, lends
itself well to this forum as Hip Hop and Jazz music and their culture stem from the Black community.
We recommend three school hours dedicated to this program as comments from students are sure to
be engaging and lively. The hours could be spread over three classroom days or incorporated into
one general assembly.
A moderator will be needed for the program. In the case of a school-wide assembly, a panel of
teachers and others from the community, such as a local radio disc jockey, are also desired.
Microphones can be set up in aisles for students to voice their opinions. An audio or video taping of
the discussion is requested for future reference and surveys by the American Youth Symphony and
other relevant organizations .
Introduction by Moderator of the Program (and introduction of Panel) and reading of the
attached Forbes Article: Noted Jazz Musician says MTV/Hip Hop Generation may Kill Classical and
This program is not designed to be an open debate between students and the panel. The topics
listed are separate segments of the program. In each topic segment, the moderator first reads the
topic aloud and then reads the corresponding “posed response”. The moderator opens up the floor
to students for comment but first reads an additional “sub-response” listed under the “posed
response” and directs students to comment on each “sub response” until the topic is exhausted. This
is repeated for each topic. Following the students' comments on the topics, the moderator or panel will
offer, in this last segment of the program, a rebuttal to the “posed responses”. As background, we
have provided commentary to the topic responses and panelists should feel free to expand on these
and share any additional insight they may have. We strongly recommend that an audio tape be made
of the program for research by the American Youth Symphony and other interested organizations.
Reading of Discussion Topics
(moderator reads topics, posed responses and sub-responses aloud to spark discussion)
Student Comments :
We suggest pausing between the reading of each response to allow students to opine at a
microphone about each “sub-response” and/or discussion point. Students should state their name
and grade and the moderator and/or panel should make notes of striking points and opinions to
address later in the program.
Panel or Moderator Response (Rebuttal)
(moderator reads/paraphrases rebuttal and/or adds any insight s/he and the panel may have)
NOTE: Before the program, identify a non-music student(s) and give them an instrument(s),
instructing them that they will be asked to play this instrument during the program.
(See REBUTTAL for Topic 3)
Should we (students) care about the survival of traditional American musical genre such as
the Symphony, Opera, Broadway musical or Jazz if these genre are not related to the music
that we listen to?
Posed Response: Why Should We Care?
• Classical Music, Show music, Opera and Jazz is a thing of the past and is not relevant to us.
• Would it be fair if your kids one day eradicated Hip Hop because it wasn't relevant to them?
• History and culture has no effect on us in everyday life, or does it? Why do we respect the
memory and belongings of a departed loved one, or celebrate holidays?
This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer because what is valuable to one person may be
of no value to another. Nonetheless, there are some core aspects of a culture that receive the
respect, interest, and protection of that culture because those aspects offer value to that culture. One
example is behavioural like showing respect to elders, teachers, and employers. Although we don't
have to show respect, as a culture, we do. Imagine if we lived in a world where we had no rules for
who was in charge? The society would break down in chaos. Another example is in the study of
English or Math. These disciplines were developed hundreds and thousands of years ago although
we use and need them to function in society right now.
The fact is that Hip Hop would not even exist without the traditional music of the past. This is because
the rhythm and the small amount of melody and harmony that does exist in Hip Hop music are directly
borrowed from traditional music. To prove this, every hook, background or sound sample constitutes
the knowledgeable use of a 12 note scale and sixteen beat bar. At some point in the production of an
artist's CD, someone in that studio or on that sample had to know something about traditional music.
The problem is that over time, as only a small part of that musical knowledge and excellence is
passed on to the general public, the society will forget that unused knowledge and the quality of
artists' music will deteriorate. What is worse is that the general public will not even realize it because
they too have forgotten that sound of excellence.
So you should care, perhaps, about the death of traditional forms of music because music is a part of
your quality of life. When you go to the doctor you expect that s/he has sufficient expertise because
your life may depend on it. When you watch a professional basketball game you trust that you are
witnessing the very best compete. Why would you not want to experience the best that music has to
What would compel us to support traditional America musical genre, even if we deemed
them worthy, if we are not exposed to them?
Posed Response: What Would Make us Listen?
• Even if we wanted to preserve it, no one we know would buy a ticket to a concert or buy a CD.
• Do artists dictate what we listen to, or do we dictate what artists put on records? Is what it is
what it is—meaning that we buy what we hear on the radio? If we grew up listening to Jazz, would we
like Jazz? If top artists incorporated traditional sounds on their recordings would that make us more
inclined to listen?
• Do we think that when we get older we will naturally gravitate to the traditional American genre?
If school required us to attend concerts of traditional genre, like taking Math class--even though we
may not like it—would we naturally acquire a knowledge and use for this more traditional genre of
It is understandable why you may not want to listen to traditional forms of music because it may be
very foreign to what you are used to hearing. Perhaps though, through this initiative and efforts
throughout the music industry, artists may begin to use more traditional sounds in their music, the
music you love. Then you may be more inclined to pay attention to those similar sounds, while they
still exist, around you.
Who can remember their favorite love story or drama? Well what made that movie so memorable, in
addition to the acting and the story, was probably the music that drove the scenes. That music was
probably the sound of an orchestra or other instruments. I challenge you to go back and re-watch
your favorite movies and really pay attention this time to the sounds you are hearing that not only
drive the scenes, but drive your emotions to those scenes. Music is a very very powerful thing, and
you being aware of different ways in which it is used is a good thing.
Also it may be a good idea for you to be expected to attend some performances of traditional music
as part of your curriculum requirements to acclimate you, over time, to those sounds that could be
with you for a lifetime .
What are the ramifications, if any, if traditional American musical genre become extinct from
Posed Response: How Would our Culture be Different if These Genre Disappeared Completely?
• Virtually every movie we see, even those with Hip Hop themes, uses traditional genre to move
Would we like to see a Broadway show with pre-programmed, computer-generated music?
Could music become boring if everything sounded like radio music all the time?
Universities graduate thousands of musicians every year, the majority of who, even today, cannot
make a living playing music. Imagine how the economy would suffer if every person who studied how
to play an instrument had no job.
Millions of instruments have been manufactured over the years. Would they not become useless?
(Ask the non-music student(s) , identified at the beginning of the program, to to take center stage. At
this time, allow them to “play” that instrument for one minute. This will make the point.)
Or even worse, imagine if you were at an important event like your wedding one day, and for the quiet
reflective portion of the ceremony the announcer states, “we will now here a moving selection by MC
Doggy Tail laying it down off the chain”! Because there is a time and place for everything, there are
different types of music for things. Be open to opening your horizons.
copyright 2005 American Youth Symphony
Noted Jazz Musician Says MTV/Hip Hop Generation May Kill Classical
and Jazz Music
Monday September 26, 4:59 am ET
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- The MTV/Hip Hop Generation,
which is indoctrinated in electronic and non-melodious music, has placed classical music and jazz in
"grave" danger according to trombonist Gregory Charles Royal, an alumnus of the Grammy Award
winning Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Royal, artistic director of the American Youth Symphony (AYS) in Washington, DC says that the
growth in Hip Hop and MTV has resulted in a 30- and- under generation with no appreciation of
traditional music. In fact, Royal has written a play about the subject, which was a New York JVC Jazz
Festival Special Event. The play is available
free on DVD at http://www.hardboplife.com.
"If you consider that the vast amount of college graduates over the past few years don't even register
in their consciousness the sound of a cello, clarinet, French horn or flute, how can you even begin to
expect them to appreciate traditional forms of music, not to mention going out and actually purchasing
a ticket?" says Royal, who has lectured on American music at colleges and universities.
Royal says that the lack of general music education in the schools and the misuse of technology that
allows young artists to bypass musical skill have provided what he calls the "nail in the coffin."
"The fact that the under-30 generation can call Rap records "songs," even though the vast majority of
them have no melody, is a barometer of how far musical standards have fallen," says Royal, who
holds a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from Howard University.
"We in the artistic community must make up lost ground for our abandonment and lack of guidance of
this generation. We must partner with Hip Hop artists and labels to lobby them to utilize acoustic
instruments. We must also persuade organizations interested in the preservation of traditional music,
like the Knight Foundation, to offer grants to Hip Hop producers that choose to use real instruments in
their music. We have to get acoustic sounds back in the marketplace," says Susan Veres, Executive
Director of AYS.
It's the Hip Hop Stupid! Shunning of the Hip Hop/MTV Culture by
Educators and Elites may have Killed Classical and Jazz Music
by Gregory Charles Royal
(May copy for print. No further permission required)
Organizations like the Knight Foundation, in an attempt to save classical music from oblivion, have
spent millions of dollars on research studies. Sadly, these artistic elites--which include advocates and
educators alike--are overlooking or grossly underestimating the most pressing and obvious of issues.
Instead of trying to figure out how to put 60-year-olds in orchestra seats in the near future, they
should be focusing on the role current social trends play in the future of music appreciation. Once the
current supporters are gone, all that will be left is a present-day generation, i.e., Hip Hop, Rap, MTV,
X, Y or Z generation--pick your synonym, which has been ignored and left to develop without artistic
guidance. As of now, there won't be any future, because there won't be any listeners.
A recent Op-Ed piece by Professor Thaddeus Russell in the Los Angeles Times (August 22, 2005)
correctly points out that the current "anti-establishment" music, i.e. Rap, is merely the newest style du
jour in an American social cycle, preceded by Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Rock etc., that has turned
mainstream America upside down. But make no mistake about it, things are very, very different this
Regardless of the content, style or social conditions of these past "anti-establishment" musics, they all
shared one important element--their participants played musical instruments. This is extremely
significant because the entire economic structure and foundation of musical appreciation and history
has, up until now, been based upon the performance and/or recording of musical instruments by live
An entire culture of 6, 10, 16 and even 26-year-old college graduates have been brought up on a diet
of electronic sounds, many of which are not even replicas (called samples) of traditional instruments.
We possess an under-30 culture that doesn't even register in their consciousness the sound of a
cello, clarinet, French horn or flute. Couple this with the lack of general music education in the
schools for ordinary students and the misuse of technology in the music industry that allows young
artists to bypass musical skill and we have just about put the nail in the coffin.
One of the million-dollar organizations conducting these studies might do better to ask this generation
to go to Mars than to expect them to support instrumental musical forms. The fact that this under-30
generation can call Rap records "songs", even though the vast majority of them have no melody, is a
barometer of how far musical standards have fallen.
Op Ed cont. page 2
There is plenty of blame to go around about how our young and not-so-young generations have
arrived in this musical wasteland, but one thing is for sure--Rap music and its culture, are not to
blame. Rather, the blame can and should be placed on the lack of guidance by the artistic community.
The blame can and should be placed on the arrogance that ignored underprivileged, but absolutely
creative, kids during their development--in spite of a lack of attention and opportunity.
Rappers, who write lyrics, have relied on record executives and producers to make aesthetic
decisions regarding what sounds are recorded as a musical backdrop to those lyrics. Radio
executives are the ones who decide what songs are up to snuff and will be broadcast. Each has a
direct impact on what sounds this generation hears. In the area of education, there are administrators
who make fiscal decisions regarding music curriculum; how important they view music has a direct
impact on a student's exposure and general knowledge. The artistic community's lack of foresight and
understanding of the importance of the very essence of music -- the necessity of instruments and the
learned skills required to play them -- with regard to the under-30 generation, has created an
environment in which electronic sounds have become the norm. Perhaps, the responsible parties lost
site of the fact that the survival of any art is determined by its future. When is the last time you heard
a group of kids debate about who has the best drummer or tightest horn section ?
So what can be done? Firstly, the under-30 generation has to be conditioned to accept instrumental
music via their world. Making them attend a "boring" symphonic concert won't do anything but perhaps
turn them off even more. It is the responsibility of the people whose guidance was absent in the
creation of this music and culture, to influence its change if classical music has any hope of survival.
We must appeal to record labels and radio stations through phone calls, emails and letters for them to
raise the musical bar.
After that, the million-dollar organizations might do well to give some of that money being spent on
studying the problem to help fix the problem. Grants can be given to Hip Hop Artists who seek to
pursue their craft with the use of traditional instruments. If one of their records becomes successful, it
may become once again cool to have the sweetest strings or tightest horn section. Then by creating
promotions and long lasting relationships with Hip Hop record companies, organizations would be able
to develop a meaningful awareness and future patronage of classical music in a maturing generation.
And finally, we, that care about instrumental music, need to do whatever creative steps we can.
Personally, the non-profit organization I work with, The American Youth Symphony, has made
available at www.hardboplife.com a free DVD /CD Soundtrack of a play that addresses some of these
pressing concerns through the eyes of a Hip Hop generation college student. The play, It's a Hardbop
Life was a Special Event at the 2004
Op Ed cont. page 3
New York JVC Jazz Festival . The play, a first in theater in that it features a cast of top jazz musicians
as actors , is about a college basketball star, who as a child was a victim of educational budget cuts in
music; through a dream, he goes back to 1964 to learn about the importance of Jazz , its lifestyle and
how it relates to his morals, and aesthetic musical values.
Gregory Charles Royal who holds a M.M. in Jazz Studies from Howard University, is a lecturer with the
American Youth Symphony, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, a former trombone
soloist with the Grammy Award Winning Duke Ellington Orchestra, a Rap/R&B producer and is listed
in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Oxford University Press 1999).
ABOUT AMERICAN YOUTH SYMPHONY
American Youth Symphony was founded in Washington, DC in 1982 and operates on a per program
basis. It's mission is to promote instrumental music in young audiences via popular music genre in an
effort to ensure the future survival of instrumental music.
In addition to the Plight of American Music Initiative, AYS also produced the DVD/Soundtrack of It's a
Hardbop Life which was a 2004 New York JVC Jazz Festival Special Event and the stage play of It's a
Hardbop Life at the New School University in New York City in 2004. The organization has also been
active in the state of Wisconsin producing programs throughout the University of Wisconsin System,
public schools and libraries and will distribute the Plight of American Music Initiative Program Guide,
which includes the DVD/CD Soundtrack, to educational institutions worldwide.
American Youth Symphony also received funding from the Wisconsin Humanities Council for its
program Backstreet Boys! Blackstreet Blues!, a demonstration and discussion about the impact of
black music in America, which received critical acclaim.