Ready to Rock? For 7 Years Running, Rock to the Future Has Nurtured Young Musicians
Not every local musician can cite that they’ve performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or hit the court for a performance at a Philadelphia 76ers game — especially before the age of 18.
Cheyenne Oxendine, a Fishtown local and senior at the Creative and Performing Arts High School, already has those claims to fame thanks to her enrollment at Rock to the Future, a regional nonprofit that focuses on providing music education to Philly’s underserved youth.
It was seven years ago that Oxendine’s mother found an ad promoting the organization’s after-school program, MusiCore, and suggested she consider signing up. “My father is into classic rock and influenced my taste in music, making me want to learn how to actually play it,” Cheyenne said. “I figured this would be a great gateway into learning the theory behind it, eventually getting the skills and … here I am seven years later.”
MusiCore is just one facet of Rock to the Future’s mission—to offer a range of programming, from after-school, summer camp, mobile workshop and in-school programs that ignite creativity and passion through music.
“It’s really unfortunate that the School District of Philadelphia cut music programs and kids do not have music education or arts [in schools],” said Josh Craft, a 13-year music teacher-turned-Rock to the Future’s Program Director. “For me, music was the thing that gave me a focus and drive, steered me on the right path and always meant a lot to me. Being able to perform, to write and play an instrument was something that not everyone gets to have an opportunity to do.”
But, filling a void is where the community-supported Rock to the Future thrives. In 2010, inspired by the belief that the power of music education can transform the lives of children, Craft’s now-wife, Jessica, was awarded the Turning Point Prize of $15,000 from Women for Social Innovation.
This financial ammunition helped kickstart the organization, giving Jessica the monetary backing she needed to educate and guide 13 students in a music-fueled after-school program for a full academic year. With ever-increasing financial and community support, Rock to the Future’s second operating year served twice the amount of students, eventually leading the Crafts and their team to educate 500 students a year across all of its programming. Jessica formerly worked in the financial services industry and was—and still is—active in the Philadelphia music scene with bands like Which Craft? and Conversations.
Rock to the Future’s MusiCore program continues to be the most impactful to their students. Kids in grades 6–12 are invited to enroll in the after-school program for a full academic year, with a cap of 40 soon-to-be musicians able to participate annually.
Held at St. Michael’s Church in Olde Richmond, the after-school program hosts Monday through Friday activities. Its curriculum ranges from weekly private instrument lessons, band practice and music theory to business courses and guest musician spotlight classes. There’s also a structured three-hour program reserved for homework in which the instructors keep a strict eye on students GPAs. “The goal is for students to maintain a B-average in school, while they are enrolled at MusiCore,” Craft said. “If they don’t, they get placed on academic watch and then we offer extended homework blocks for those students and pair them up with tutors.” MusiCore even helps with the college application process and 100% of the program’s alumni has been accepted to colleges.
“MusiCore is really about giving back to the community and providing a safe place for kids to hang out during an impressionable time period in their lives,” continued Craft.
Even better, it’s free. “We apply for private grants, receive support from family foundations and host giving campaigns, like our BANDmate program, where people will give what they can monthly,” he said. Rock to the Future also hosts an annual gala—this year to be held at Lincoln Financial Field—to support their cause, where the hardworking students showcase their new musical talents.
Equally impressive is the fact that the local program offers the young musicians the opportunity to perform at a professional venue like World Cafe Live and grants them the chance to record their very own original songs as part of a partnership with Mad Dragon Records and Drexel University.
Most recently, Rock to the Future was named a Philadelphia Eagles Care Partner for 2016-17, a partnership given to only five nonprofits per year. “They’ve been really awesome to us with letting the kids come to game and getting us box seats,” said Craft. “We even got a chance to do a meet-and-greet with Connor Barwin.” This week, they even teamed up with the Eagles for a cleanup day at Pop’s Playground and come December 5, the football players will participate in Rock & Return Volunteer Day.
Rock to the Future’s MusiCore 2016–17 season began on September 12. It’s not too late for eager parents (and students), to sign up. Limited spots still remain—but act fast, as they are nearing their 40-students-only cap. For more information on all of Rock to the Future’s programs, visit rocktothefuturephilly.org. •