Rocking for a Cause

Rock to the Future is a free non-profit with a mission to provide free music education to Philadelphia kids.

A band called No Shut Up practices at Rock to the Future.

For some kids, learning classical music in their high school orchestra just isn’t enough. Sometimes, it’s easier to engage kids with music when you teach them how to play songs they already know from listening to what’s popular on the radio.

“I think if you play something that you connect to emotionally,” said Rock to the Future’s program director Josh Craft, “you’re more inclined to want to give it your all.”

Rock to the Future is a free nonprofit with a mission to provide free music education to Philadelphia kids.

There are main aspects of Rock to the Future: the after-school program, the in-school workshops and the two summer camps.

One summer camp, called Rockadelphia, is for kids ages 13–17 while the other summer camp, Guitar Stars, is for kids ages 7–12.

The after-school program, which starts at 4:15 every day Monday through Friday, is divided into three rotating activities. One of those is always time to do homework for school. But the other two activities can be time for individual lessons, individual practice, music theory or band practice.

That’s right, band practice. All of the 40 students who participate in Rock to the Future are divided into eight bands that practice throughout the program’s fall and spring sessions. At the end of each session, the bands play a live performance. At the end of the fall session, the bands play a winter showcase inside of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Kensington, which is the same place the after-school program and summer camps are held. However, the organization is not affiliated with the church. It just rents space from it.

At each winter showcase, each band plays one holiday song and either a cover or an original song. At the spring session’s performance, students are required to perform two original songs and one cover song. The spring showcase is typically held at a concert venue in Philly. Last year’s was held at Union Transfer.

The camp can also change students’ perception toward learning — not just about music, but school in general.

“I’ve been here for going on 10 months now and it’s going great,” said Marc Baker, 16, who plays guitar at the camp and is a sophomore at Penn Treaty School. “I just had a meeting here with my mother and Josh because I’m going to be enrolling into a program with the Community College of Philadelphia at 16 to get into college two years early, and I would not be in that situation if I wasn’t here. I probably would have dropped out if I wasn’t here. This is academically and socially and everything a life-changer.”

Before enrolling in Rock to the Future, Baker said his grades were poor and he had “no motivation to keep going.”

But when he was put in an environment like Rock to the Future, he flourished. Along with his grades, his musicianship also improved, he said.

“I played guitar for a little bit before I got here,” Baker said. “I wasn’t any good. I was teaching myself. Partially from lessons and partially from emerging from [Rock to the Future’s] environment, I ended up learning drums, piano, bass and got way better at guitar — way better than I ever saw myself getting. And I know for a fact I would not have just taught all that stuff to myself.”

Baker isn’t sure yet if he wants to pursue a career in music, but many of the students at the program, like 12-year-old Lovanda Lucas, dream of being rockstars. Lucas said she learned a lot from performing live.

“It’s actually pretty scary when it’s your first time,” she said. “Once you know the chords, you don’t really get that scared.”

Lucas even learned how to sing.

“I’ve sang before, but I’ve gotten a couple comments about how I used to sing like a dying dog,” she said. “But once I got vocal lessons, people have started coming up to me and telling me that I have a voice like an angel.”

Lucas is a big fan of Korean pop acts such as BTS and Black Pink, but she also likes “some rock stuff” like Green Day and Metallica.

Lucas especially likes meeting like-minded people with a similar taste in music as her, something she can’t always find at Adaire Elementary, where she’s in seventh grade.

“I get to know each and every one of them,” she said. “I make lots of friends.”