“Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun” — Albert Einstein

This month, ImpactHub San Francisco is hosting an event called Audio Backyard on Oct 29th. The event features local BBQ, music, art and showcases an organization that spurs creativity and inspiration in the local community. “Rhythm Section Drumlines” (RSD), a non-profit whose mission is to educate, and develop young performers in schools that often don’t have music or percussion programs, will be part of the Audio Backyard event.

To learn more about RSD and their work to spur creativity and talent in music, I spoke with the founder, Mick Terrizzi, and Board Chair Nicole Terrizzi. Mick and Nicole met when they were teaching in Kansas City through Americorps’ Teach for America program. Mick has been a drummer since the age of 14, and was touring professionally with rock and hip-hop bands during college. Nicole, an Iowa native, was involved in music programs throughout her life and was part of a drumline in middle school. Their passion and love for drums made them want to bring this creativity to other students in the Bay Area. The organization has 200 students involved in the program across seven schools in the Bay Area and is using drums and percussion to foster creativity and talent.

 

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(RSD Founder, Mick Terrizzi and Vice-President Eugene Lucero)

Mick and Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what experiences inspired you to start RSD? 

Mick: I am a SF native, and grew up in the Sunset District. I have been a drummer since 14, and throughout college I traveled and performed in bands. After I graduated from college, I taught in Kansas City through Teach For America. There I saw kids in underserved neighborhoods with lots of violence. Many of these schools were underfunded and run-down and didn’t have the support for after-school activities. One day, I found a set of 1970’s beat-up marching band drums in the basement of the school. I basically re-designed them to match the school colors and at 22, I did a pilot program – fifteen students were interested in learning how to play drums! It was amazing! From there, they went on to perform throughout Missouri. After that, Nicole and I came back to San Francisco and started in the Mission District.

 

Nicole: I am an Iowa native and have loved music from the very beginning. I took part in my middle school drumline, and music was such a grounding force for me. In college, I studied English and journalism and went on to teach in Kansas City through Teach For America. When Mick decided to do this, I offered support and used my writing skills to research grants, write proposals, and overall support fundraising.

 

Can you tell us why you both feel the work at RSD is important today?

Mick: Two reasons: it gives students in low-income areas the same access to creative arts, and it also provides students another way to learn. Not everyone loves to read books, and not everyone learns the same way. The beauty of learning drums is that you are still doing math and it teaches them responsibility and being a team player.

Nicole: I had the privilege of having both band and choir when I was in public school. I have realized, that this is not available to everyone. During the recession, California cut back on their arts and music programs. Even though we have bounced back from the recession, music and art programs still haven’t been reinstated, especially in low-income communities. That’s one of the reasons why I think the work at RSD is so important. We strive to teach and make available music programs to those who don’t have it.

 

Why is creativity important to youth and the broader SF Community?

Mick: Creativity is where the best innovation has come from. It provides students better ways to learn!

Nicole: Well, there is an obvious impact in education. Studies have shown that creativity improves students’ academic performance, specifically in math. We’ve also found that student’s who are more involved are more connected to their school community.

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(RSD kids at Stanford Basketball halftime show)

What are some things that you have learned from this program?

Mick: I have learned a lot about nonprofits and how they work. I have also learned the value of giving students leadership roles. If you give them some responsibility, they perform wonders. I have also learned how supportive the Bay Area community is. The whole community has been so supportive and helpful and they want students to have this!

Nicole: I’d have to say I have learned about the power of the program. Seeing the look in the students’ eyes, the joy and the excitement that comes with execution of a fantastic performance. It is spectacular. I get excited just to see the shows! I have also learned the power of the program in building teamwork and camaraderie. A new student was having a really tough time fitting in middle school. He hadn’t found his friend group, and was just shy. He joined our program, and I remember at one instance, we had a photographer taking group photos. All of the students were pulling him in to get him into the group photo. The friendships that are created are amazing.

Where do you see this project/venture headed?

Mick: Our goal is to be in seven schools by the end of this year, as, unofficially, it is RSD’s seventh year. I would love to see RSD sponsor a percussion program in every single high school in the Bay Area.

Nicole: I see us continuing to serve more and more schools and expanding our impact across the Bay Area.

What would you define as “impact” for your venture?

Mick and Nicole: In terms of metrics, I’d define it as number of students served, number of hours learning music and the quality performance opportunities, i.e. where the students end up performing.

How can the Impact Hub community support you?

Nicole: We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Impact Hub, and are honored to be part of the Audio Backyard event. You guys have gone above and beyond to support us. We’d love to see you an upcoming fundraiser! Impact Hub SF is graciously hosting our Mario Kart Tournament Fundraiser on November 19th! All proceeds benefit our percussion programming and further expansion into additional Bay Area schools. If you’re interested in joining the fun, you can get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/2dIx5zr

Mick:  There are also several ways with the obvious being financial support. With $500, we can support an entire music class in learning percussion. Another way is through networks and relationships! If you know a school, music teacher, or principal that could use RSD we could use that connection to bring our program to that school.

And, if folks have unused equipment lying around we’d love to give it a home. We are specifically looking for Latin or African percussion instruments.

Lastly, if you could share one thing with other entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Mick: Just keep going! Keep eyes on the objective and keep moving toward it. Try not to get discouraged. All it took was one letter from IRS. Perseverance is the biggest thing for us. Didn’t go anywhere.

Nicole: Yes! Persistence. When Mick piloted the program, eight years ago, it was a dream. It took a long time to put the paperwork together and find the resources and tools necessary to execute. I’d have to say to entrepreneurs, that it may feel like you are not moving. But if you keep at it, great things can happen!

To learn more about RSD, click here: http://rhythmsectiondrumlines.org/

To attend the Audio Backyard event, purchase your tickets here: http://bit.ly/2dyuG8X

(Interview conducted by Pooja Rajani)