Band in a Bus Makes Music Hands On

Summer programming at Nick Rose-Stamey’s nonprofit is a way for kids to let off ”STEAM.”

Nick Rose-Stamey is a lot like Jack Black’s character in School of Rock—a guitarist who discovers a passion for making music accessible to children. Working in the nonprofit arts education sector over the last 10 years with organizations like Elementz Hip Hop Cultural Art Center and Music Resource Center raised his awareness of the deficit of music programs in public schools, and later inspired his nonprofit, Band in a Bus. “The original idea was to take an old school bus and turn it into the best band class on wheels,” he says.

JUNE 2021

PHOTOGRAPH PROVIDED BY ALEX JOHNSON

Although activities aren’t actually on a bus, Rose-Stamey’s artful concept may call to mind the cartoon The Magic School Bus, where the learning environment can be anywhere. Through partnerships with Elementz, Activities Beyond the Classroom, Cincinnati Public Schools, and Dohn Community High School, Band in a Bus provides instruments, curriculum, and staffing to students across the tri-state.

When schools went virtual last year, Rose-Stamey thought it was a shame that instruments were left sitting on shelves instead of in the hands of kids.

“What I quickly realized is that kids [had] access to their algebra and science textbooks, but if you were in band class, you didn’t get to take your instrument home,” he explains. “Over 70 percent of kids don’t actually own an instrument. Most kids rent. It requires a certain level of means to be able to rent an instrument.”

To help students across the region gain access to music, Rose-Stamey created and distributed more than 1,000 “Band in a Box” DIY kits as a portable and inexpensive way to provide curriculum and hands-on fun. Each kit contains small noise makers like kazoos, drumsticks, and shakers, with the intent to introduce a modernized music class experience that meets kids where they are.

And starting June 7, kids 18 and under can participate in enriching summer programs through Band in a Bus, such as Bucket Brigade, five weekly jam session–styled classes where grades K–4 learn rhythm and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) principles through contemporary music. There’s also teen band for grades 7–12 where kids learn to play pop music and develop socialization and teamwork skills.

“The research shows that if a kid has 30 minutes of a performing arts or creative elective every single day, then that’ll help them develop essential social [and] emotional skills,” Rose-Stamey says. “It will help them develop their leadership skills, because there’s a lot of teamwork when it comes to making music. You have to blend together, and that’s such a critical aspect and life lesson, to learn how to work well with others.”

Even more importantly, students find their voices.

PHOTOGRAPH PROVIDED BY ALEX JOHNSON

“I’ve seen it happen through every school or program,” he adds. “There’s kind of like that a-ha moment that comes over a kid’s face where they realize something about either themselves or that they legitimately enjoy the sounds that they make with other people.”

Music has always been an outlet for Rose-Stamey, who remembers wooing crowds as a 4-year-old singing The Commodores’ “Brick House” at his grandparents’ karaoke events. Affectionately, he calls the guitar “the king of all instruments.”

“It’s the reason that I found my way towards the arts,” he says. “Honestly, I think getting my first guitar at age 12 changed my life, so I’m really grateful to be able to pay that forward to the next generation of rock stars.”

In the last year, Rose-Stamey says Band in a Bus has worked directly with more than 500 students. Kits and instruction time were made possible thanks to ArtsWave, Haile Foundation, Elementz, Cincinnati Bell, and private donors.

“Music is a win-win for everybody,” Rose-Stamey says. “I just hope that someday we can stop making it the first kid out on the dodge ball team.”

For more information about participating locations or to enroll your child in Band in a Bus’ summer programs, visit bandinabus.org.

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