What Music Means to Me Project is a celebration of the value of music in education and quality of life.  This project was started by Richard Rejino, a musician and photographer, in a most interesting way.  You can read more about this on the What Music Means to Me site, but one of the beautiful results is a book with breathtaking pictures and incredible stories of the difference music has made in a number of lives.

I met Richard Rejino this summer at the Texas MTA convention.  I was struck at how thoughtful and selfless a person Richard was as he talked with me and my husband. It is not every day that I meet people who ask questions and listen to others in conversation rather than tell others all about themselves, and Richard is one of those rare individuals who is genuinely interested in learning about those that are around him.

So you can understand why I was so interested in his What Music Means to Me book and project.  I went to his session at the TMTA convention and cried on several occasions along with those that were around me.  It was a moving presentation and his book is equally as powerful.  I hope you have a few moments to read about Richard’s thoughts behind this incredible tool to explore the impact of music in our schools, our families, and our own lives.  Hal Leonard is now publishing Richard’s book and it is available to purchase in both hardcover and softcover editions.

In addition, Richard has generously offered to give away a signed copy of What Music Means to Me! To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post.  You can add another comment/entry for every time you tweet, FB, or blog about this book, linking to this article.  The drawing will take place on February 9th.  Here is my interview with Richard Rejino about What Music Means to Me:

What is What Music Means to Me?

What Music Means to Me is an ongoing project that celebrates the value of music in education and in the quality of our lives. Its purpose is to give students, teachers and music lovers a voice to express how music has impacted or changed their lives. The Project is also a tool for music advocacy. It is my way of being a more active participant in the music advocacy movement that is so important to keeping music in our schools and keeping music as a vital part of our society and well-being.

How did the idea for this project come to you?

It isn’t often that one can pinpoint the birth of an idea, and although I do not remember the exact date when it happened, I clearly remember the moment when the What Music Means to Me Project was born.

In March of 2008 I purchased Class Pictures, by photographer, Dawood Bey. It is a collection of beautiful photographic portraits of inner-city high school students. Each image is paired with a personal statement written by the students expressing what they wanted most known about themselves. I found the combination of the portrait and the personal statements very powerful and moving. The courage and honesty with which
these young people wrote was palpable. I was particularly struck by their optimism. In spite of the horrific experiences they had experienced in their young lives: abuse, rape, discrimination, fractured families, and so much more, each of them retained dreams of a better life. In fact, many of them dreamed of becoming singers, dancers and musicians.

As I neared the end of the book – I read it all in one sitting – it occurred to me that I could give voice to music students in the same way that Bey did to his inner-city youths. At once, I sat up in bed, thinking about the possibilities. The title of the project, What Music Means to Me, was also born that evening. In some ways, the whole experience is still fresh in my mind and I find myself reflecting on that particular moment often.

What do you hope to accomplish through this book?

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to emulate the book that inspired this project. But as the process began to unfold, What Music Means to Me took on a life of its own. For me, it was a very creative period of time where the purpose of the What Music Means to Me Project remained the same, but new ideas kept coming and doors kept opening. That being said, the purpose of the book was to bring these ideas to life. I felt very strongly that music can and does change lives. Beethoven believed that music could change the world, and I knew instinctively that if I could find the right people to tell their stories, the impact would be as emotional and moving as music is itself. Looking back, I unknowingly wanted to show the human side of music’s effect on people. There is enough research on how music makes us smarter than we could ever read. What Music Means to Me is about the intangible benefits of music; it is about how music teaches us determination and discipline; it is about how music gives us joy, sanctuary,
and inner peace. Perhaps more than anything, I hope that this project can be used to inspire students to become music-makers, to keep music in our schools, to, in some small way, bring music and all the arts closer to the center of our lives.

Describe your process for this project.

The obvious challenge was to find candidates who would be interested in participating in What Music Means to Me. As a music retail manager, I knew many teachers and performing musicians who were instrumental in helping me find students who participated in the project.

Once I found a subject, I sent them guidelines for writing their statement. It was important to me to have a subject’s statement in hand before I photographed them. This was vital to the process because the statement gave me an insight into my subject; it was a way of knowing something about them before our first meeting. Their statements always played an integral part in planning how I wanted to photograph them. The one
time I photographed someone before I had their statement, I regretted it.

As much as possible, I wanted to photograph each subject in their learning environment, their school, or their teacher’s studio. I also wanted to capture them in a relaxed pose looking directly into the camera because the image works as a duet with their statement. Initially, the viewer is drawn to the image first, but after reading the statement and looking into the eyes of the subject, the image begins to transform itself, taking on a life of its own. It begins its own conversation with the viewer. I am always fascinated at this transformation. I’ve seen the “magic” happen many times in the faces of an audience when I talk about the project during a powerpoint presentation. It is quite a powerful phenomenon.

What has been your favorite part of this process?

© Richard Rejino. All rights reserved. Used with permission

There are many, but hearing each person’s story has been quite inspiring, even life-changing. When I began this project, I did not have any real notion of what the journey had in store for me. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I knew the kinds of stories I needed to have, but the experience of hearing those stories and meeting the people behind them was one of the most rewarding I have ever known.

The other part that has surprised me is how the What Music Means to Me Project has taken on a life of its own. Every time that I reach a plateau, whether it’s finding a new subject, completing the DVD, or creating a motivational presentation, there is a new idea or possibility that pops up. Even now, I am creating a more interactive website that will include posts for news, other contributors, and a blog. I plan to launch it in time to
coincide with the release of my book through Hal Leonard Corporation.

In addition, I have received many speaking engagements within the last 12 months and have two major presentations in 2011. I am scheduled to speak at the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy in Chicago, and the National Association of School Music Dealers convention in California.

The project keeps growing. I’m just the facilitator.

How have you been impacted through working on What Music Means to Me?

Without question, the WMMTM project has been a life-changing experience. I often felt like the writer who experiences his inspiration coming from above and is merely a conduit through which the words are recorded. Every step of the way, I had a very strong, intuitive feeling in my heart that kept pulling me, inspiring me to chip away until I completed this project. There were periods when I struggled with this project, finding people, coordinating photo sessions, and having to go long periods without any progress. But now that I have gotten to where I am, there are more things to create and develop that I hope will continue to feed the purpose of What Music Means to Me.

Tell us about the new project on which you are working.

Currently, I am working on What Teaching means to me: Cause and Effect. It is similar in focus to the Music project, except that this time I am concentrating on how teachers feel about their job. Instead of limiting the focus to music, I am interviewing teachers from all subject areas, from calculus to coaching, and from kindergarten to college. I am also including principals and superintendents in the mix.

The book is be intended to show the full circle of teaching and education. It will showcase dedicated teachers who talk about what their profession means to them and what it means to the lives they touch everyday. It will also include a chapter devoted to former students of the teachers in the book. The students talk about and how their former teachers influenced and changed their lives. These stories are on a different level
from What Music Means to Me, but they are just as moving and powerful to the reader.

Teachers are too often under-valued and under-appreciated, yet they persevere to fill a need in their students and to fill a need within themselves. As the national debate on the state of education continues, I hope this timely project will raise public awareness of the value of dedicated teachers in shaping the lives of students and ultimately, our society.

Is there anything special you would like to say to music teachers about What Music Means to Me?

© Richard Rejino. All rights reserved. Used with permission

Keep doing what you are doing. You are performing a service that is immeasurable in the lives of your students. As a teacher described beautifully, when we teach music, we teach math and history, geography and language, but in a much more beautiful way. We all know that students who study music score higher on tests and generally do better in school, but what we sometimes fail to recognize is that through music students can feel a deeper connection to themselves and to the beauty in the world. I firmly believe that the intangible benefits music gives us, a deeper connection to our true potential and to the possibilities in this world, are its greatest gift.

I would encourage every teacher to ask their students to write a short statement about what music means to them. I think you will be surprised, delighted and amused at what your students will tell you. Several teachers shared with me that after reading my book or hearing my presentation, they asked their students to this. They have posted the statements in their studio and even had the students read what music means to them at a recital or a school program. We should be teaching our students, from a very young age, to become advocates of music and the arts in all areas of life.

Thank you, Richard, for your thoughtful answers to these questions.  I invite all of my readers to take a look at and order What Music Means to Me.  You can order on Amazon or HalLeonard.  Don’t forget to enter the giveaway by commenting once and commenting each additional time you help spread the word by Tweeting, FBing, or blogging while linking to this article.