- Kickin' Grass, contributors to Holly Raleigh Christmas, get ready for Christmas with a show at Cameron Village.
Kickin' Grass: soggy-bottom bluegrass. Schooner and The Rosebuds: sweet indie pop hooks. Dulcimer Dan: mythological Celtic melodies.
Aside from calling Raleigh home, these musicians seem to have little in common. But they share something else—a spot on the new Have a Holly Raleigh Christmas CD, a 14-track Christmas compilation benefiting local high school music curricula. Aside from celebrity-led save-the-music programs and advertising campaigns supported by the Arts Council, large-scale community involvement has been sparse for music in schools. But the problem is inherently a community issue.
"For many young musicians, the inflated cost to perform can be discouraging," says Broughton High School Band Director Jeff Richardson. "Booster sales and fundraisers never quite recoup all of the costs. Any time you see a band at a Friday night football game, you're looking at anywhere between $75,000 and $100,000 ... just to put the band there."
Less than 50 percent of American public high schools include music as a core academic subject, and according to the National Association for Music's Web site, high school music programs are currently allotted less than 10 percent of a school's instructional budget.
Holly Raleigh Christmas—a venture between the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, audio mastering engineer Jeff Carroll and 14 local acts—hopes to help. Profits from the album will be directed toward music scholarships for local high school band members, who can use the money to purchase new instruments or equipment.
The album wasn't always such an altruistic endeavor. In fact, Carroll, who runs Bluefield Mastering from a small Raleigh sound studio, initially meant it to be a publicity tool for local musicians. The idea came to Carroll in December 2005 while mastering a track on the pop Christmas album of songwriter Dan Bryk.
"I was listening to Dan's song, and it was like a light went off in my head. There was a definite spark. 'Wow, this is really good, I bet this is something other artists would do, a Raleigh-based holiday compilation,'" says Carroll.
He started contacting musicians he'd worked with, but—to his surprise—the idea was met with a lack of interest and funding. Eventually, two local businessmen took to the idea and helped Carroll give it the financial grounding and spirit it needed.
- Holly Raleigh Christmas organizers (left to right) Robert Courts, Shawn Gillen and Jeff Carroll and contributor Rob Waston
In early spring, Integra Mortgage owner Robert Courts and McNamara Properties owner Stephen Votino agreed to back the project. Then they realized it had the potential to be something bigger.
"Steve and I started tinkering with the idea and decided that we didn't just want to do a scale of 500 or 1,000 business CDs. We really thought we had the chance to turn this into something great," says Courts.
Votino and Courts, members of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, decided to take the project to the association in hopes of making it a community affair. Association Executive Director John Odom suggested the profits be donated to high school bands.
Odom spoke from experience. Each year, the GRMA organizes the annual Raleigh Christmas Parade. In turn, it works with many local high school bands that perform in the parade. The bands have to pay a $50 entry fee to perform, and Odom realized that even this paltry amount was a struggle for several under-funded bands. In June, with Odom's recommendation, the association passed a proposal to fund the CD and funnel the profits into scholarships.
"That's really when the whole project came together," says Courts. "We could put out an affordable, locally produced CD with local musicians and then have the net proceeds go back into the community. We decided we could turn this into a project that would feed our community."
Again, Carroll asked local bands to donate Christmas creations. This time, though, the response was overwhelming. Almost immediately, 14 bands agreed to donate tracks.
The major pull for the artists, it seems, was the disc's charitable aspect. They would be raising money to support other young, aspiring musicians.
Schooner frontman Reid Johnson has played music since high school. "Music in schools gives you the opportunity to be around folks that want to express themselves artistically. I made some good friends through music and it helped shape me as a person," he says. "I definitely support aiding the music program and didn't hesitate to do a benefit for something like that."
As an album, the finished product is about self-expression, tying together diverse local artists who have never shared a bill or an audience. The Rosebuds' opening snow-inflected pop jingle is countered with the Milagro Saints' angelic spiritual "Child of Peace." Terry Anderson & the O.A.K. Team's volume-crankin' holiday punch comes met with an instrumental from Dulcimer Dan & the Blue Skies Band.
And while the album celebrates Raleigh's musical diversity, deeper meanings are at its core. "We wanted something that would give you that warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling you get at that time of year when you give," says Carroll.
Have a Holly Raleigh Christmas is available at local record stores. For more, see www.hollyraleighchristmas.org.