Rock to the Future sets the stage for education

A nonprofit that aims to help “at risk” Philly youth prepares for a benefit concert at First Unitarian Church this Friday.

Abi Reimold | TTN
Abi Reimold | TTN

It takes about two hours.

After that time, the students at Rock to the Future, a nonprofit that aims to teach “at risk” Philly youth musical appreciation, put their instruments down from practicing Nirvana covers.

Some of their parents surround them, stamping the “Rock to the Future” logo onto promotional coffee sleeves while their children practice.

They’re preparing for not only a benefit concert at First Unitarian Church on Friday, but for an extending musical experience they might get otherwise.

After leaving her job in financial service, Jessica Craft created the nonprofit in 2010, and soon after, she was awarded the Turning Point Prize for Social Innovation for $15,000.

Craft said she believes that music education and positive attention can influence kids to stay in school and thrive into adulthood, and with programs that teach children as young as three and as old as 17, Rock to the Future gives musical instruction in areas like instrument workshops, games, hands-on lessons and band instructions where the students can hone their craft with others.

These instructors include Joshua Craft, a multi-instrumentalist who has established himself in the Philadelphia music scene. He’s worked with Paul Green’s School of Rock, among other organizations, and has also given private lessons.

He arranges music for band rehearsals in the program, and teaches music theory as well as songwriting.

Rock to the Future’s director of development Katie Feeney asserts that music education is crucial to helping young Philadelphians stay on the right path and achieve their goals.

“At the core of Rock to the Future’s mission is our belief in the power of music education to impact the lives of at risk youth,” Feeney said via e-mail. “Data shows that students involved in music education programs such as ours are three times less likely to be truant or use alcohol and drugs.

There are numbers to prove that the program is working.

Feeney said that over the past three years, students in Rock to the Future’s after school program have had a 92 percent average retention rate with an increase in PSSA scores and increases in reading proficiency.

From its humble beginnings of serving 13 kids in an after school program, Rock to the Future has grown providing four programs for over 300 children and teens from underserved and low-income areas of Philadelphia.

Students in the MusicCore after school program get one-on-one tutoring and music instruction on the instrument of their choice, such as guitar, bass, drums or keyboard.

This is all after they finish their homework for school, of course.

These lessons consist of an hour-long practice in a band environment, taught by a qualified band instructor as well as their peers. They also are given an hour-long music theory class based on their musical knowledge, an hour-long creative workshop, and a vocal workshop if they choose to sing.

Since live performance is such a crucial aspect of a musician’s career, Rock to the Future has close ties to the vibrant performing arts scene in Philadelphia.

On Feb. 28, the organization will work with the Quarterly, an organization that uses Philadelphia’s music scene to raise money for music education, to host the Winter Compliation CD Listening Party and Arts Bazaar at the First Unitarian Church.

The event features a compilation album consisting of local bands. Proceeds from the CD will go to Rock to the Future, and the event will showcase bands from the compilation such as Commonwealth Choir, Modern Colour, No Stranger and more.

“We’re super psyched about this show,” Davis Howley of Commonwealth Choir said. “Music education is super important to us. When we put effort into a new generation of musicians it makes us feel like we’re doing it right. It gives us positive energy to feed on.”

Howley and other members of the band are from Doylestown, Pa. and attended Central Bucks School District, which Howley said had a strong musical education program and way for students to get involved in music. He said he would like to see that as something that is standard in all schools.

“Why teach something if that’s not what someone is going to become, that’s what people think,” Howley said. “Why teach gym if they’re not going to be a football player? Music education isn’t just playing instruments — it’s understanding that music is constructive, and how music is put together and the history of it and how it coincides with society and people. Music is a major part of our lives. We listen to it from the second we wake up to the second we fall asleep and we probably hear it in our dreams too.

This is Commonwealth Choir’s second show with Rock to the Future. Last summer, they played an outdoor concert in Northern Liberties, and the students of Rock to the Future followed them. Their performance at the Church will be a special acoustic set, which is something Howley says is new and different for the group.

Along with their involvement with the local music scene, Rock to the Future also has close ties with the many academic resources made available in Philadelphia.

“We hope to expose students of all walks of life to enjoy the benefits of music education,” Craft said. “Some important values they learn go beyond music and include collaborations and team work, positive social skills, confidence and many others. We are training future leaders in our organization and it is important that we teach them values as well as a comprehensive understanding of music.”

Through hours of practice, the staff and students involved in Rock to the Future have seen the fruits of their labor.

“Getting to know these amazing kids who love writing originally songs, watching them grow as musicians and songwriters, seeing positive changes in these kids lives directly from this program,” Craft said. “Those are the things that make my job worthwhile and important.”

Brendan Menapace can be reached at

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