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Beyond the Books: Alfred Music’s Initiatives in 2018

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Featured
  • Issue Articles
  • July 2018
• Created: July 20, 2018

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It feels like just yesterday when Alfred Music’s Ron Manus was onstage at RPMDA in 2017 accepting the Dorothy Award.

“I am never speechless, but winning the Dorothy Award has come close to achieving the impossible…,” said Manus, chief business development officer of Alfred, at the time. “This award was given to me, but it belongs to Alfred Music and to all of us. I am the person people see at conventions as our ‘brand ambassador,’ but so much of what I do, communicate, and represent, is because of the people of Alfred Music, both present and past.”

It was a big moment for the brand, but an even bigger one when you consider the fact that Manus is a second-generation winner of the award. There’s almost no better example to explain just how much of a legacy-based company Alfred Music is – but when it comes to keeping tradition and family values, how can such a company adapt to the ever-changing ways of the music education world? Music education hasn’t been limited to solely print music for a while, but with each passing year, technology has become more and more involved.

“We are 100% focused on music education and a teacher-first mindset while continually looking at providing solutions rather than features,” say Manus, and Alex R. Ordoñez, vice president of marketing. “Alfred Music is extremely excited and optimistic about the future of our industry. Each year brings a new set of challenges; however, our ability to adapt, change, and overcome has played a huge part in our successes. We are focused on innovation and leading this industry toward the future. Alfred Music is constantly evolving, allowing us to continue helping the world experience the joy of making music.”

Specifically, the company is working to see technology as an opportunity for improving the quality of education and teaching instead of a stumbling block for the entire print industry.

“Alfred Music has always focused on music education and the pedagogy that best helps people experience the joy of making music,” the pair explain. “When it comes to technology, we look at this as an opportunity. Our priority is to have all of our titles available in the format that best suits the needs of our customers. Whether print or digital, having it accessible is key. What is most important is that we make a product that enhances the music education experience.”

As for trends in print music and learning right now, the team knows that school music, of course, is as popular as ever. Their new SI Online materials also serve as a springboard for getting students and teachers to access their resources online as a supplement to their Sound Innovations educational books that they might already have.

“School music, which includes methods and performance, is doing well,” Manus and Ordoñez note. “We are seeing great success with our newest band and orchestra method, Sound Innovations, with the addition of SI Online—an online platform, which includes new enrichment and supplemental content that provide differentiated instruction and assessment to meet the unique needs within a classroom. For the private market, staples such as Alfred’s Basic Piano Library and Suzuki continue to prosper.”

Sound Innovations and SI Online in particular combine traditional print-based learning with the option to stream video masterclasses audio accompaniments for SI Strings and SI Band Books 1 & 2. Other content that comes with SI Online includes enrichment pages on music history and scale and technique exercises, and new repertoire for Book 1, including duets and ensembles. The new program also removes CDs and DVDs from the mix altogether by offering all these resources solely online.

It’s a method that recalls the similar conundrum with tangible and digital music; where most people once were happy to grab a CD or iTunes download, most consumers who aren’t streaming music would prefer to purchase a vinyl album that comes complete with a download code. In other words – the winning combination seems to not be tangible versus digital, but using them both together in tandem.

While Alfred remains unintimidated by all the fast-paced changes that are being hurtling at them (and the entire print music industry), perhaps more than anything, they’re unintimidated by tackling social and educational change head-on and very publicly.

Per tradition, Alfred’s annual meeting with U.S. representatives at the NAMM Advocacy Fly-In in Washington D.C. pushed for adequate funding and allotment for music education in public schools. In May, Manus and Alfred trade shows and partnerships director Jennifer Paisley-Schuch met with many Congressional offices, including Congressman Tony Cardenas (California), Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Legislative Aide for Congressman Adam Schiff, Anthony Thiessen.

“In the majority of our meetings at this year’s Fly-in we received encouraging support from congressional offices,” Manus said. “They understand the value and importance of music education and are supportive of funding Title IV at the authorized amounts. On the national level, participating in events like the Fly-in or writing our congressional leaders can go a long way, but it’s a slow process and the effects are not always immediately visible in local communities.”

Together with members of NAMM and other MI company and music education reps, Manus and Paisley-Schuch also prepped with advocacy training and information on the academic and behavioral benefits of learning an instrument. They were also briefed on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was instated in 2015 to keep music as a part of a well-rounded education for children.

“No matter how small or big, we’re realizing it’s really important to do something in our own communities. It can be as small as voting for folks that support music education, or attending local school board meetings and sharing why music education is important,” Manus adds. “Our choices make a difference and all we have to do is make small choices that will change everything. The future is unwritten; hopefully it will be written on a staff! We can make that difference—it just feels really great to be involved and help.”

Most recently, Alfred helped to establish The Smart Women in Music (SWIM) Fund, “a fund designed to foster and support female industry professionals at various stages of their careers,” as the company explains.

Robin Walenta, Crystal Morris, president and CEO of Gator Cases, and DeDe Heid, executive vice president of Heid Music, all lead SWIM.

“I love the NAMM Smart Women in Music Fund initiative,” said Manus. “It is great that we are trying to get more diversity and women into our industry. If you look at the brilliant woman we already have in our industry, they shine so bright! Alfred Music is thrilled to be a strong supporter and contributor and we look forward to continuing our support for the Smart Women in Music Fund.”

The goal of the fund is threefold for women in the music industry: to offer mentoring, learning and professional development opportunities at The NAMM Show and Summer NAMM; job shadowing of female leaders at industry events; and in-company residencies.

“I believe history has shown us that an informed, concerned, mobilized, and well-educated community is often essential to great social change,” said Julie Takashima, Alfred Music’s human resources business partner. “By fostering and supporting women who demonstrate ambition, The NAMM Foundation/The SWIM Fund is empowering women to reach their potential for high level positions within the industry in support of/creating a social change.”

Maybe Alfred isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of advocacy amongst MI companies, but how vocal they are certainly sets them apart. And for Alfred, setting themselves apart isn’t in any sort of game plan – it just comes naturally.

“We don’t really focus on our competitors, we just focus on working with the best authors, educators, clinicians, arrangers, and editors,” Manus and Ordoñez agree. “It is the people that make Alfred Music great, and we celebrate this every day. We love what we do and I think that is contagious.”

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