Play It Forward: Kiku Collins

An MCB discussion on the role and influence of music education on music professionals today

Play It Forward is a forum for individuals who have been influenced by music throughout their lives to share their stories on how music education has shaped their experience as an educator and/or performer, as well as an individual.


Kiku Collins has established herself at the heights of pop, jazz and R&B. This former “Jersey Girl” followed music on a journey out of her small town and onto the biggest stages in the world. According to Jazz Journal
International, “Ms. Collins plays trumpet and flugelhorn like a twenty-first century Miles Davis.”

Collins has performed with Beyonce, Michael Bolton, Jill Scott, Nick Lowe,
Gloria Gaynor, Train, et al. She’s performed on the Today Show, Oprah
Winfrey, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Rachel Ray Show, The View, the
Black Girls Rock Awards on BET, Ellen Degeneres, the Grammys, in addition
to appearances at several international jazz festivals.

Collins continues to keep a busy schedule as a performer and clinician for
Getzen Musical Instruments and spends much of her time creating new music
in her recording studio.

“Kids are starved for creativity… We need to teach
kids to feel emotions, not memorize charts and tables. What will this
generation grow up to be without having created music?”

MCB: How would you describe the role music education played in your developmental years as a musician and educator?

KC: Of course, without music education, I wouldn’t be a musician today – who
would have taught me, encouraged me, and told me to keep going when it got
tough? My life would be very different – I don’t want to imagine what it
would be right now.

MCB: Do you think your life would be vastly different now had you not had a music education program growing up?

KC: I certainly would be in a different life – a different career, surrounded
by completely different people. I was very shy as a kid, and my music
teachers all encouraged me to pursue my love for music – they saw it, and
heard it. Of course, I might have gotten better grades in school, not
practicing concertos day and night… but would that have made me a
happier person? I’m so grateful for the gift of music. It’s something that
always gives me a reason to smile, and that started way back when I was a

MCB: Has studying music affected other areas of your life, work or personality? If so, what skills and traits do you credit music education with helping to develop?

KC: Music has taught me to be unafraid. I’ve acted, sung, danced, studied
trapeze, worked in situations that I might have found intimidating if I
weren’t used to being thrown into unfamiliar/intimidating situations, and
I’ve met and worked closely with celebrities, and have been able to think
of them as people. Really popular people. But, I’m not intimidated, and
performance is not affected. The same holds true when I meet people in
life – and given my socialization track record as a kid, this is a
miraculous thing.

MCB: What are your thoughts on the current state of music education based on your experience and what you’re seeing out there?

KC: I think it’s sad. My daughter doesn’t have a music program. In grade
school she had some music classes, but not much. I used to go in there and
work with the kids – they had a box of old bugles and a bottle of spray
sanitizer for the mouthpieces. I donated a few old stereos to help out,
but all in all, it was sad. Her school now is centered toward writers and
artists which is wonderful – and I’m hoping that along the way my husband
and I can perhaps work with the musical theater productions, perhaps get a
few more volunteers to play with us. Maybe that will spark some interest!

MCB: Anything else you’d like to add about your views on music
education, what it means to you, the current state, etc.?

KC: We need more. Kids are starved for creativity. My daughter is lucky, she
goes to a creative school but they still are mandated to center education
around testing – at least at certain times of the year. We need to teach
kids to feel emotions, not memorize charts and tables. What will this
generation grow up to be without having created music?


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