Kristin M. Hall, Associated Press
Students from Pearl-Cohn High School perform at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, during a news conference announcing a revamped music curriculum in Nashville public schools.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville city and business leaders want to keep the music playing in public schools in Music City USA through a new curriculum that will incorporate new musical genres and production technology into the classroom.

Mayor Karl Dean and Jesse Register, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, announced the "Music Makes Us" program on Friday on the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium. The program will be funded in the first year by charitable donations coming from well-known arts philanthropist Martha Ingram, Mike Curb of Curb Records and the Gibson Foundation, the charitable arm of Gibson Guitar Corp.

"Hopefully it will give us one of the best, if not the best, music programs in the country," Dean said. "The idea is we want to take advantage of all the natural assets we have here."

While keeping traditional orchestras, marching bands and choir, students could soon be learning about songwriting and composition, performing in rock and rap bands, and experimenting with recording and remixing. Students from prekindergarten through high school will be exposed to more genres, such as jazz, pop, folk, bluegrass and world music, and local music venues in Nashville will give students a chance to perform publicly.

A new music director for the school system will be hired in the first year with new classes starting in 2012. Dean said they raised more than $500,000 in private donations that will go to fund the first year of the program. Dean said for the program to be successful the city will have to put in public funds, too, but he said he didn't know yet how much.

The schools in Nashville already benefit from millions raised by the Country Music Association for new instruments. Guitar players from the Nashville School of the Arts and a choir from Pearl-Cohn High School, an entertainment magnet school, also performed during the news conference.

Colin Reed, Chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, which owns the Ryman, said developing musical skills and appreciation in young people in the community will benefit the industry as well.

"We are going to produce a lot more good musicians in this town because of this particular program," Reed said. "We like that idea as a company because it means there is going to be a continual reservoir of folks coming into the music business."

Register said they will provide new training for the system's current music instructors, who were involved in the planning process of the program. As many school systems struggle to penny-pinch in a down economy while also meeting higher academic standards in areas like math, science and reading, Register said research shows music education enhances learning.

"We can't just focus on achievement tests and standardized tests," he said. "This is a way for young people to get connected to education, to see the relevance in education particularly in our community, where we are a national leader in the music industry."

Fresh-faced country artist Hunter Hayes, who has been on tour with Taylor Swift, said he grew up in Louisiana with a variety of instruments in his hands, but never had proper musical classes. He came to Nashville to chase his dream and said he hopes young students will be drawn to explore their creative skills through the program.

"I am excited that people like me will be able to find it through the public school system in Nashville, in Music City," he said.


Follow Kristin Hall at