Bears of Manitou Prepare to Rock the More Than Music Festival With Reflections on Music Education

Without music education, it's safe to say there would be no Bears of Manitou.

To help foster the local talent of the future, the band is pairing with Ear Candy Charity, a local nonprofit that seeks monetary and musical instrument donations to help with Arizona's dismal arts education funding, for the More Than Music Festival on Saturday, February 11 at Sail Inn.

The Tempe-based rockers, along with local acts Conjugal Visit, Adriene Blanco, Trinket and Peppermint James, donated their abilities, all thanks to their personal convictions.

We talked to guitarist Gabe Williams and drummer Brian Champ about what their music education meant to them and why they think the Ear Candy cause is a worthy one.

Up On the Sun: What made you guys want to participate in the More Than Music Festival?

Gabe Williams: We have worked with Nate Anderson and Ear Candy in the past and have always had a blast. We greatly respect Ear Candy's vision, and anything we can do to help with this endeavor is something that we want to be a part of.

What kind of music education did you grow up with personally?

Williams: I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to have the support of my parents in the music that I pursued. They started me off early with private piano lessons (a great foundation), although as a young child, I gave up after a few years. Oddly enough, coming from a place with very little cultural diversity, we had a great music program. It was right up there with our sports program, which was pretty rare for small-town Midwestern U.S. I played saxophone in jazz and concert band, and actually participated in school musicals and show choir. Nerd, I know. Now that I have lived in AZ for 10-plus years, my investment in the future of music is here, and I can only hope the music education climate will improve.

Champ: I also started with piano lessons. That lasted about two months! I began playing drums in the school music program in fourth grade, in Pennsylvania. It was great because I looked at it like free lessons. I continued on through high school (in Arizona), which is where I first witnessed the funding being cut. My drumline could not afford a drumline instructor, so we had to work two times as hard to get a Superior at the State Championship. It was tough, but we were happy to have succeeded.

So you supplemented your music education with lessons?

Williams: When I decided to take up the guitar, a lot of my education was self-taught. There was a point though, where I hit a wall and felt I wasn't progressing any more. So I had to resort to hiring a guitar teacher. I studied with him for a few months, and he taught me certain techniques and basics that have stayed with me and I still use to this day. Without that foundation, I would be a fraction of the player I am today.

Champ: I have never taken any private drum lessons but took advantage of school music programs from elementary all the way to college level at ASU. I also learned by listening to my favorite bands and/or playing music with friends. I have, however, given private drum lessons in AZ. I would love to do this again and hope to inspire many musicians in the future.

How has music education changed your life?

Williams: Of course, music education changed my life. I traveled out of state several times to perform in competitions for both singing and playing the sax. It cultivated a part of my creativity and a way of thinking that I would be a completely different person if I hadn't been a part of that culture. There are so many studies that show the benefits of musical education in kids in regards to developing intelligence, the ability to multi-task, and success in society and school. I feel that I am no exception to these studies. Much of the success in my life is due to my musical education and the constant it has been in my life.

Champ: Music education definitely changed my life. It opened up an incredible world of music and creativity to my life. If it weren't for the elementary music programs, I may never have come this far with music -- or at all. I cannot imagine schools without music programs. It is perfect opportunity to inspire children through creativity, imagination and fun!

Arizona is currently ranked second to last when it comes to music education funding in the country. How does that make you feel, since you've had so many positive experiences with music education?

Williams: It saddens me. Arizona is dead last in a lot of education-related polls, and funding for music education has been a big part of education cuts all over the country. With so many positive studies showing how a musical curriculum can help advance our kids, I don't understand how it can be so easily neglected and brushed aside as unnecessary. Regardless of the musical education my kids have in school, they will always play, learn, and exercise these skills when they are at home, because that's what I can directly control.

What kind of a show are people in for if they head down on Saturday?

Williams: The show is going to be great! We are playing full force for about an hour with some new songs from our upcoming record release that no one has heard before. (We are holding this release close to our chest until it's out). There is a variety of music acts, from singer-songwriters, bands and DJs that we are excited to be playing with. This is our first full band show in a few months, followed by next week's acoustic show with Dustin Kensrue at The Hard Rock Café in Phoenix.

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