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Unfiltered: Michael Yessian on Making Music in Detroit

You've got to give some credit to those doing what they can to help Detroit Public Schools right now. To that end, I'm giving huge props to Michael Yessian and his family.

The Yessians make music -- the kind that gets stuck in your head for hours after watching one of their television commercials. Some of their stuff is so popular it ends up on YouTube (their Bounty song has nearly 500,000 hits already). They also have recording studios, where locals like Bob Seger have worked on their greatness.

This Thursday, the Yessians are hosting a fundraiser at their Farmington Hills studios for DPS music program. The event will feature a special performance by Renaissance High School's saxophone quintet. The students (Megan Britt and Malcolm Elliott on alto sax, Takiyah Golston and Alexis Wiffen on tenor sax, and Kenneth Sturdivant on baritone sax), under the direction of Willie McAllister Jr., the school's band and orchestra director, are preparing for a European music competition at the end of April.

Yessian is adding $2,000 to the pot and challenging other Detroit creatives and businesses to do the same or more.

“After being bombarded by budget deficit headlines and a barrage of distressing stories about cutbacks at the Detroit Public Schools, we decided to play our part in a solution,” said Michael, president of Yessian Music. “We rely on so many talented creative directors, producers, editors and musicians in this town; exposure to the arts is essential for each of these career paths. We want to pave the way so that these students can discover their unique creative outlets and cultivate their individual talents.”

So he gets the Blog for the day -- and let's hope DPS gets a lot of new music for it. I'm throwing in a few bucks, too.

***

Don't Stop the Music…

By Michael Yessian/president and head of production for Yessian Music

My best school memories don't revolve around the big football game. They have nothing to do with acing a test. And believe it or not, I can't even remember the name of the hot girl who finally talked to me during my 11th grade science lab. For me, those events pale in comparison to performing in the school orchestra.

Now, if the first word that comes to your mind is loser, think again. Especially if you are among the millions of Americans who have become, perhaps much to your own surprise, addicted to American Idol or glee-fully hooked on GLEE, FOX television's smash hit show showcasing the intense joy high school students from every social stratum discover by immersing themselves in…and expressing themselves through…music.

That's because music in its many eclectic forms touches us deeply. Electrifies our senses. Elevates our emotions. Evokes extraordinarily powerful reactions within us.

I grew up just outside of Detroit. When I think about the rich musical legacy cultivated here, I am truly in awe. Detroit gave birth to the Motown sound, legendary jazz greats, classical music masters and some of the biggest names in rock & roll. But the continuation of our stunning historic musical heritage is at risk of coming to a screeching, silencing halt. As school budgets are being slashed throughout the state, fine arts departments are dwindling; in some cases, they are close to disappearing completely. And no district has been harder hit than Detroit's public schools.

I figure those of us who love music (and I personally can't think of single person I know who doesn't, can you?) have two choices. Sit back and do nothing. Or step up to do something, big or small, to save the music. That's what I have decided to do. Be an instrument of change, so to speak, with a little help from my friends.

On April 15, Yessian Music (a global, full-service music/sound/design/mix/post production music company my dad, Dan Yessian, founded almost 40 years ago) will host a private music fundraiser at our metro Detroit headquarters for our city's creative advertising community. Our goal is to infuse some desperately needed money into the shrinking fine arts programs at Detroit's struggling public schools, where the budget for their music departments has dwindled over the past three years from $300,000 to $88,000, severely impacting their ability to refurbish or purchase instruments. Benjamin L. Pruitt, Supervisor of Fine Arts for Detroit Public Schools, recently told me they have hundreds of instruments waiting for repairs and regular maintenance before they can be used by the district's deserving, exceptionally talented students. Mr. Pruitt, who has been with the Detroit Public Schools for 44 years; said when he came to the district in 1966, every school had a music program. Today, only 35 percent of its schools have music curriculums.

As someone who has been in the music business all of my life, this is heartbreaking to contemplate. It's even more difficult for my dad, who taught at Redford High School in Detroit from 1967 to 1971 before establishing his company. He's seen students with virtuoso talent and understands the benefits kids receive from the fine arts discipline which strengthens their thought process, encourages collaboration, provides a positive outlet, and builds self esteem. Research supports this, too. According to The National Association for Music Education, music education is linked to higher graduation rates, greater success in school, and increased problem-solving skills. In addition, music study keeps students engaged and less likely to become involved with drugs and alcohol.

If I can help to pave the way so that these students can discover their unique creative outlets and cultivate their individual talents, I know I will have made a lasting difference in their lives. I've seen the wealth of talent we have here in Detroit. Yessian Music has utilized a lot of youngsters from local schools for numerous music projects for big national clients like Disney and Oscar Meyer.

March was National Music In Our Schools Month. Let's band together. Let's hit a financial high note. If you are inspired, you can even send a tax deductible donation (made out to The Detroit Public Schools Foundation) to Yessian Music, 33117 Hamilton Court, Farmington Hills, Michigan, 48334. 100 percent of the funds received will go toward the repair, maintenance or new purchase of instruments.

Don't let the music die in Detroit. Especially when so many students have the potential to bring it to life.

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