Local music education nonprofit reaches children citywide

Rock to the Future Program Director Joshua Craft helps Takhari Casselle, 10, play the electric guitar for the first time at a free workshop at the Central Philadelphia Library. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTO

One in three schools in the School District of Philadelphia has no music program, according to the district. And private lessons are expensive, leaving scores of the city’s children with no access to music education. But husband-and-wife duo Jessica and Joshua Craft of Rock to the Future are working to change that.

Saturday marked the launch of nonprofit Rock to the Future’s pilot partnership with the Philadelphia Free Library. Through the partnership, Rock to the Future holds free monthly music workshops for children ages 3 to 17 at the Central Philadelphia Library, 1901 Vine St.

The workshops are one of the nonprofit’s newest ventures in its mission to provide free music education to Philaedlphia’s underserved youth, in turn promoting academic performance, self-esteem, passion and creativity for the city’s kids.

“It’s using music as an incentive to help kids keep focused and better their lives,” said Program Director Joshua Craft, 29.

When the Crafts started Rock to the Future in 2010, they had 13 students, a few used instruments from Craigslist, a rundown church basement in Fishtown and a $17,000 budget.

This year they expect to reach 300 students throughout the city, said Jessica Craft, 28.

The organization is also piloting a partnership in the coming weeks with Horatio B. Hackett School, where Rock to the Future’s instructors will teach weekly guitar and piano lessons to elementary students during the school day.

Hackett is one of the city’s lucky schools that already has a music program — but there are about 70 schools that do not, according to the district. That’s where the Crafts want to go next, if they can get the funding. It would cost $2,500 to $3,000 per school per year to expand the program, Jessica Craft said.

Rock to the Future moved its Saturday workshops from its Fishtown location to the library in the Fairmount/Art Museum area to make the program more accessible to people all over the city, she said.

The workshops are divided by age group and cover topics ranging from make-your-own shakers for the 5-and-under set to an introduction to songwriting for 9- to 17-year-olds.

Joshua Craft, who plays guitar and bass and has taught music for more than 10 years, teaches the workshops with other staff members or volunteers.

At one of the workshops last Saturday, Craft taught electric guitar to two 10-year-olds who had never had a lesson before. By the end of the hour, they both could play Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and both wanted to continue playing the guitar.

Students can pre-register for the workshops at rocktothefuturephilly.org but 10 spots are left open for walk-ins.

Rock to the Future’s original program, the MusiCore Afterschool Program, which provides students with music lessons and help with homework, is still going strong with 35 students enrolled this year, Jessica Craft said.

The Crafts have seen a real impact in their students — most of whom are from Fishtown, Port Richmond, or Kensington, she said.

“We’ve seen kids go from failing grade point averages to ending the year with a B average,” she said. “We also have kids that started with A’s but never had the opportunity to play music, and then they pick up an instrument and they’re amazing, and they wouldn’t have that opportunity if the program didn’t exist.”

Craft’s vision is that the short-term improvement in the students’ academic lives will translate into a lasting impact on the neighborhood.

“The long-term hope is that in a couple years, when they all graduate from high school and get into colleges, they’ll come back and help develop the community,” she said.