Yamaha Corporation of America,
Senior Vice President
Over the years Rick Young has had the opportunity to work for Ward-Brodt Music, Ludwig Industries, Selmer, Slingerland and his current company, Yamaha, where he has been since 1987. He is on the founding advisory board of MusicCrossroads in Indianapolis, chairman of the Music Achievement Council, a 501c3 non-profit, past director on the NAMM (music products industry) board, advisory board member of the Museum of Making Music and senior vice president and director on the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute.
Rick has been married for 37 years to his wife Jane, a University of Wisconsin alum who he met in Madison while she was a student and the cashier at Ella’s Deli on State Street. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.
How did your early experiences with music prepare you for a career in the music industry?
Many proven benefits of studying music happened to me. Learning the aspects of teamwork, including communication, reliance, support, negotiation, trust, following a leader and sometimes being a leader, are the key areas that come to mind. Maybe most importantly, it is just being part of and experiencing the wins and losses together, motivating one another and working through the challenges of the middle school and high school world. Our society has gone through many changes in the past 40 years, since I was in high school, but my guess is that those challenges still exist in many forms and may even be harder now.
Much of the new research being published now goes steps further than the interpersonal abilities just mentioned or the enhanced capabilities in math and science and other academics. It is now addressing the calming effect playing music has, which leads to wellness as a result of stress reduction. Some of the medical community is now studying the “human genome,” which basically is the whole person and how playing music either inhibits chemicals that induce stress or enables chemicals to offset stress. The key here is playing, not just listening.
If I had to pinpoint the one most important factor it would be the ability to riff, solo, improvise – it has many names, but it means to be able to think in an innovative way, when you are faced with a blank page. In our world today, if our students are truly going to be successful, they must have the ability to think in this manner – to solve problems and to create new ideas where others may see nothing. So I believe that learning how to create a solo on demand, prepared me the most. And it does not matter what job position we choose to be in, improvisation skills transfer everywhere.
You have strong connections to music in Wisconsin. From your perspective, what makes Wisconsin special for quality music education?
It seems to me that there are two main factors. First is the dedication and commitment of the music educators in Wisconsin. They are results-oriented and very student-centric. Second is the very strong state organization (WSMA). Together they produce a synergy that has kept Wisconsin at the forefront of music education for many years.
I have to also mention the school music retailer and all that they do to assist the educators to have a successful program. We can look at other states and see that with one of these pieces missing the educators are not as strong. Less strong educators means less strong programs, which means fewer students involved in music. Those are the factors that I see and you can look to many different programs and see it play out. Dedicated educators with a strong state organization and quality school service retailers equal a successful program.
Yamaha is a major supporter of music education in Wisconsin, particularly through their sponsorship of the Yamaha Music Technology Center at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education in Waunakee. What motivated Yamaha to become involved in that way?
Yamaha has a long history both in Japan, the U.S., in fact globally, of supporting music education. The Wisconsin Center for Music Education was the first of its kind in the country and we thought it was such a great idea to have a center devoted to the arts that we wanted to be involved.
Technology is driving how we all live, work and play today and it also can have great impact on our students and how they learn. We should be taking advantage of all that the new technologies have to offer for education. It has the power to bring new students into a program that they may not have been interested in before and will bring them all the positive lessons that I mentioned in a prior question. The more children we have involved in music, the more will be able to use its benefits during their lifetime, providing us with better, healthier citizens.
So we felt that by providing a music technology room at the Center, we would have the opportunity to bring the latest in new music technologies to educators thereby allowing them to become familiar with areas of interest and bring it back to their classes.
Yamaha is also a major supporter of the Launchpad competition. How do you see Launchpad connecting with today’s music student?
We think that it has the ability to bring in a whole new group of students into the structured umbrella of WSMA. It is certainly not a secret that these styles of bands have been around for a long time. I remember being in Battle of the Bands competitions when I was in high school, with one major difference, no adjudication. Bringing this into WSMA has the ability to keep it strong and make sure that the key outcomes of being in a band are being taught.
Launchpad also helps to bridge a gap in what is taught in band and what is listened to by the student every day – “their music,” as I remember it referred to by a band director some years ago. Not all students find playing traditional band music the most exciting proposition. Ok, I did, and those who stick with band over high school and beyond do, but offering the Launchpad program can certainly increase the percentage of the student body involved in school music programs. A case in point – I had the pleasure of playing with two different guitar players in high school who were not involved in the band program. They became very good players and singers, practicing whenever they had the chance and still play on a regular basis today. They and others like them should be involved in a program that supports them and adds a direction that they can use to develop properly and more quickly. It also gives those very dedicated individuals the forum to bring others along who may need an extra nudge from a peer.
What is one of your favorite music memories?
Actually some of my earlier experiences now seem to be the most memorable. Playing a drum set duet at State with my friend and bandmate Evan Fisher, seeing my first drum clinic, which was presented by Joe Morello, attending Band Camp at Stevens Point and playing with really talented students and faculty. Those are some of my favorites and all for the same reasons, it made us feel good and excited to be playing music.
Working with music artists and national acts, you have probably experienced an array of memorable encounters. Are there any in particular that have been extremely meaningful to you?
Being a drummer, it would have to be having the good fortune to sit and talk with Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson – two very different people that had the utmost respect for one another. By the way, Buddy was very nice and Louie was a true gentleman. The take-away was that drumming/playing music was a brotherhood/sisterhood.
What are some ways that you think school music programs can thrive despite these challenging times?
In another answer I mentioned that we need a strong director, state organization and school service dealer to equal a strong program. However, it all starts with a strong, passionate director.
One other point is that we also need current educators to make sure that they are stepping up looking for future educators in their high school bands and it may not always be the first chair players. Taking some time to discuss with them the rewards of being a music educator and some of the things that they will be able to expect as they move forward into their career, may help us replenish the shortage we are now facing.