Keith Urban spoke of the transforming power of music Tuesday (April 3) to students, parents and supporters of the W. O. Smith Nashville Community Music School. “Literally, music has saved my life,” he said.
Urban made his remarks inside a former tire warehouse on Eighth Avenue South, not far from Music Row, that will become the school’s new headquarters and enable it to double its current enrollment of 350 students. The construction will cost an estimated $5 million and is due to be completed in 2008.
Established in 1984, the school, with its all-volunteer faculty, provides lessons in reading, composing and performing music to children from low-income families. Each lesson is priced at 50 cents.
Several hundred people associated with the school clustered in the cavernous, un-air-conditioned warehouse to hear Urban, school officials and local politicians launch the official If I Had a Hammer fundraising campaign.
The dignitaries sat on a makeshift stage, at the front of which stood a stack of bricks emblazoned with the school’s logo.
Nashville mayor Bill Purcell opened the ceremony by joking that he was there to be “a warm-up act for Keith Urban.” John Stein, Tennessee president of the Bank of America and a 20-year supporter of the school, announced his institution is contributing $1 million to the campaign.
Following Stein’s announcement, the W. O. Smith’s Children’s Choir came forward and sang John Leavitt’s stirring “Ose Shalom (The One Who Makes Peace).”
“It’s got to be the voice of God that in 90 degree weather can give me chills,” Urban said of the choir’s performance when he came to speaker’s stand. He told the crowd that he grew up in a family that loved music — that his dad was a drummer until “he got a real job.” His first instrument, he continued, was a ukulele his parents gave him when he was 4.
One day, Urban said, a woman came into his parents’ store to ask what they would charge her to put a sign in the store window advertising her guitar lessons. They arranged a tradeout: they wouldn’t charge her to display the sign if she’d give their son free lessons.
“So many people go through so much trouble to express themselves,” Urban observed, noting that some do it through sports. In the Australia of his youth, he added, “Everybody else was playing football — cricket. I was the kid in the music room.”
Urban said he became involved in the school at the suggestion of his financial adviser, Mary Ann McCready (who stood in the crowd cheering him on). Gesturing toward the stack of bricks in front of him and the hard hats and sledgehammers lying nearby, he joked with the students, “This will be the one time when graffiti and destruction are encouraged.”
In summing up, Urban said, “Literally, music has saved my life. It’s been the guiding force and the faith in my life. It’s kept me going. It’s the reason I came half around the world to follow my dreams and pursue my destiny.”
At the end of his remarks, Urban, Purcell and Stein donned the hard hats, picked up the sledgehammers and — after warning the media to step back — gingerly tapped the bricks into a jumble.