Have you heard of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus? I’ve been asking this question to music educators lately and I was surprised at how many of them answered no. This nonprofit, mobile audio, video, and broadcast studio provides hands-on educational experiences for kids all over the country. The bus began 17 years ago when the project’s executive director, Brian Rothschild, approached Yoko Ono with the idea. She said it was something John would have loved and the two have been working on it together ever since.
I met up with the bus when it paid a visit to Skaneateles High School in New York state. Producer/engineer Bryce Quig-Hartman took me through the bus. He has been touring with the bus, which visits more than 150 schools each year, for two years.
“We take a group of six to eight students on board. In eight hours we will produce an original song and music video, all from scratch, all done by the students; they write the lyrics, they write the song, they plan out some of the shots,” explains Quig-Hartman.
He says that his favorite part of working with the students is “opening up the endless ‘candyland,’ which is the bus, to them, to give them access to the latest and greatest tools and see that light bulb switch on in their eyes. Here they have every tool they need to literally create whatever they want.”
The most interesting part of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is that this once-in-a-lifetime experience is free from cost to both schools and students. All of the equipment on the state-of-the-art bus, which has a total value of between $2 million and $3 million, was donated by corporate sponsors. “It really is a priceless bus in a number of different ways,” says Quig-Hartman.
This fall’s trip to Skaneateles High School and stops at six other schools were sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation as part of its Best Communities for Music Education. The schools earned two-day bus visits by submitting winning video entries illustrating “What Makes Music Education Great in My School.” Each of the winning schools also received instrument and equipment donations from NAMM member companies