One stu­dent, one note at a time

I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion grow­ing in North­west Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PROFILES - SEAN HAR­RI­SON

About the time Eli Marks be­came se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in his gui­tar lessons at age 14, he was strapped with an im­pos­si­bly old, vir­tu­ally un­playable gui­tar. En­ter the Ben­tonville-based I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion.

The founders of that mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion and song­writer-fo­cused or­ga­ni­za­tion do­nated a new Epi­phone acous­tic gui­tar that eased Eli’s mind — and his fin­gers. All of which helped lead to the re­cent Arkansas Arts Academy grad­u­ate’s be­ing ac­cepted into the Bel­mont Uni­ver­sity mu­sic pro­gram.

“The gui­tar made all the dif­fer­ence for me. I was able to prac­tice for long hours, re­ally, for the first time. That en­cour­aged me, and I started mak­ing progress,” Marks, now 18, says.

For I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion, named for the famed gospel song penned by Al­bert E. Brum­ley in 1929, the gui­tar do­na­tion and Eli’s suc­cess make a good ex­am­ple of what it strives to do for thou­sands of young­sters in this part of the coun­try — to help de­velop lives through the power of song­writ­ing and mu­sic.

“It’s thrilling to see some­one like Eli take a gui­tar as a high school fresh­man, learn to play and make mu­sic, and turn it into a col­lege ca­reer,” says Betsy Brum­ley-Bernier, grand­daugh­ter of Al­bert

Brum­ley and chair­man of the I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion.

While Marks set­tles into col­lege life this fall and starts learn­ing his way around Nashville, Tenn., Brum­ley-Bernier and her hus­band Kevin Bernier look to ex­pand I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion’s im­print on the North­west Arkansas mu­sic scene. The foun­da­tion’s “You Can Fly” song­writ­ing pro­gram for school-aged chil­dren has been ac­tive in south­ern Mis­souri schools for years, and its reach in North­west Arkansas’ schools is on the rise.

“This is im­por­tant be­cause stud­ies have shown that stu­dents in­volved in mu­sic score 7.2 points higher on I.Q. tests,” Kevin Bernier says. “They have bet­ter

at­ten­dance rates and grad­u­a­tion rates than kids not in­volved in mu­sic pro­grams.”

Eli is a per­fect ex­am­ple, Brum­ley-Bernier says. “His high school mu­sic stud­ies have led him to Bel­mont. We want to see a whole lot more of that.”

Mean­while, the foun­da­tion is or­ga­niz­ing a new song­writ­ers as­so­ci­a­tion in North­west Arkansas based on a suc­cess­ful model from Colum­bus, Ohio. The Berniers en­vi­sion the song­writer as­so­ci­a­tion act­ing as a hub for more per­for­mances, work­shops, sem­i­nars and guest pan­els fea­tur­ing top-level song­writ­ers from across the coun­try — sim­i­lar, they say, to what they brought to Ben­tonville last April with their first Power

of Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

The Power of Mu­sic Fes­ti­val — a three-day event with big-name spon­sors, Coca-Cola, BMI, SESAC and other lo­cal and na­tional mu­sic in­dus­try or­ga­ni­za­tions — hosted per­for­mances by six Nashville Hall of Fame song­writ­ers, among dozens of other pro­fes­sional singer/ song­writ­ers, and a se­ries of sem­i­nars and work­shops with mu­sic in­dus­try lead­ers and ex­perts.

“Power Of Mu­sic Fes­ti­val was the big­gest event we have ever done, and it was truly a mag­i­cal week­end of shows, events and pan­els,” Brum­ley-Bernier says. “We al­ready have com­mit­ments from some of the same Hall of Fame song­writ­ers for 2018 and many more in­cred­i­ble song­writ­ers and per­form­ers.”

“We brought some of the most renowned and ac­com­plished song­writ­ers in the world to Ben­tonville last April. And we’ll do it again in 2018,” Brum­ley-Bernier says. “This is what we do. And the plan is to build a dy­namic and pow­er­ful mu­sic com­mu­nity in North­west Arkansas.”

One song­writer at a time, Kevin Bernier adds — “and one stu­dent at a time,” he says, nod­ding to­ward Eli.

Courtesy photo

Eli Marks (left with his gui­tar), mu­sic teacher Dave Sin­gle­ton, Betsy Brum­ley-Bernier and Kevin Bernier cel­e­brate the do­na­tion of a gui­tar to Marks courtesy of the I’ll Fly Away Foun­da­tion.

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