As the bass guitarist for Los Angeles rock band Love and a .38, Justin Emord ’12 (Communication Studies) is used to being in front of crowds of rock ‘n’ roll fanatics.
But in May, Emord’s audience shifted to politicians and senators as he advocated on Capitol Hill with the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) about the importance of having music education in K-12 schools.
NAMM, a non-profit organization that hosts annual music trade shows in Anaheim and Nashville, Tenn., advocates throughout the year on the importance and benefit of music.
Emord said he initially felt out of his comfort zone, but he adapted quickly. Emord credited California State University, Northridge for giving him the tools to spread a passionate message about why music programs are so vital in schools.
“The public speaking classes I took [at CSUN] was how I was able to not choke and die when I was in D.C.,” Emord said. “I was the youngest person and the only musician there, so I was initially worried politicians wouldn’t take me seriously. But as soon as I started talking, they were surprised.”
Emord more than held his own during numerous meetings on Capitol Hill and credited part of that to the classes he had at CSUN, particularly with Communication Studies professor Peter Marston.
“The classes I had [with Marston] were some of the hardest I had to take in college, but I really learned a lot from him. He was a great professor, and I felt like he made me a better person,” Emord said. “I also did so many presentations and projects at CSUN that talking to policy makers wasn’t that big of a deal.”
According to Emord, his trip to Washington almost didn’t happen.
“I had about a 1 percent chance of going because musicians aren’t typically allowed to go to these meetings,” Emord said. “But because I’ve been working with NAMM for so long, I was the exception to the rule and the underdog in the political arena.”
Emord advocated for more funding for music programming in elementary and junior high schools.
“Unfortunately, music is always the first thing to go in schools,” Emord said. “Many schools don’t have the money set aside because they’re hurting [financially]. It’s a shame because kids should have equal access to a flute as they do a basketball.”
NAMM’s main purpose on Capitol Hill was to talk with members of Congress about the implementation and funding of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2015. The act is intended to provide schools with $1.65 billion for music programs, but so far only about $4 million has been allocated to the proper programs, Emord said.
To Emord, the trip to Capitol Hill was a success in making sure more of the allocated funds will soon be given to schools across the country.
“A lot of people were very interested and receptive to our message, and in the grand scheme of things, $1.56 billion in the federal budget isn’t that much to ask for,” Emord said.
Emord is a real-life example as to why having music education in schools can have a life-changing effect. His passion for music was initially sparked by his fourth-grade music teacher.
“I tried taking private music lessons and it didn’t work,” Emord said. “But once I was in the classroom and learning music from my teacher, the light bulb went off and I couldn’t stop playing.”
The teaching Emord received in his youth is a main reason why — when he’s not traveling the West Coast with his band — he devotes his time to schools in Anaheim a couple times a year with NAMM’s Support Music Coalition, a program that helps children learn and grow with music.
On the first day Emord was in D.C., he stopped by a local elementary school to show students how to play basic notes on the guitar.
“Just handing these kids a guitar, you could tell they treated it like a gift,” Emord said. “Giving these kids access to music, even if it’s only for an hour, exposes them to it and lets them see if this is something they want to pursue.”
Emord’s passion for music, as a performer, teacher and advocator, comes as no surprise to the professor that knows him best.
“Justin is a rare person who combines the ambition for success in the entertainment field with the sensitivity and compassion needed to be an outstanding music educator,” Marston said. “I think his accomplishments are exemplary.”