From Philadelphia to Bigfork

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Lily McAndrew, right, takes instruction from Dennis McCumber while a group steadily builds a jam at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival at the Flathead Lake Lodge. (Seaborn Larson/Daily Inter Lake)

The pool of opportunities in the art world is constantly shrinking as school budgets around the country are constricting, often trimming art and music programs.

The D’Addario Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the largest guitar string manufacturer in the world, has given a Pennsylvanian teen with a formidable talent a chance to play and learn with some of the best in the industry at the Crown Guitar Workshop offered through the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival in Bigfork.

Lily McAndrew, a 16-year-old Philadelphia native, won D’Addario’s very first Crown of the Continent fellowship award, enabling her to experience the Crown of the Continent guitar workshop and festival. The process took time and patience while the foundation considered more than two-dozen applicants.

“It sounded really cool,” McAndrew said. “A few weeks after the application was in, I was in the top two applicants, and then I started to get a little nervous.”

The festival facilitates eight Crown Guitar fellowships that bring young artists from around the world to the festival. This year, 19 scholarships were awarded to local students from Whitefish to Pablo.

The D’Addario Foundation found McAndrew through the Rock to the Future program, a free music-based organization that provides after-school and summer-camp programs to youths from low-income families to practice and explore music.

At camp, McAndrew works with children ages 9 through 12. She helps teach basic chords, finger exercises and how to generally put a song together.

Jessica Craft, founding executive director of Rock to the Future, said McAndrew was the perfect candidate for the Crown fellowship award.

“Lily immediately came to mind when they announced the scholarship,” Craft said. “She can really shred… I think having this opportunity to travel outside of Philadelphia and be around people from different backgrounds and playing styles is going to be incredible.”

McAndrew knows the fellowship and workshop are important because schools don’t always provide students with opportunities to explore music. She sees the lack of exposure to the arts in the world from a bigger picture.

“It’s really important because music is my outlet,” McAndrew said. “A lot of people don’t have a way to let their emotions out and that’s, in part, why the world can be dangerous.”

McAndrew was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8, often making reading and schoolwork difficult. Even reading sheet music can be frustrating, she said.

“But when I play guitar, I just feel like I have it figured out,” she said.

McAndrew first picked up a guitar around 10 years old, and she’s now going on her third year with the Rock to the Future program. While she continued to struggle in school, Craft and Rock to the Future maintained their academic standards, and brought in tutors to help McAndrew with schoolwork.

“I really am trying harder because of it,” she said. “Now my grades have never been better.”

In the last three years, McAndrew has gone from a steady C student to making the honor roll at her Philadelphia private school. And now, her hard work has brought her to the Flathead Lake Lodge’s south lodge, where she spent the past week practicing with monumental jazz and blues instructor Dennis McCumber and a group of experienced guitarists on improvisational jamming, pulling out different scales in different keys on the spot.

“Playing with a band is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 4,” she said. “Over the last three days I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at that.”

On Friday, McAndrew performed alongside the “Join the Band” class she spent several days with at the lodge by Flathead Lake.

It’s a success story for The D’Addario Foundation, considering it is the foundation’s first fellowship award for a trip to the Crown of the Continent festival.

“We were really looking for someone who had the drive and the desire to pursue their dreams. Lily had that and it was really evident,” said Suzanne D’Addario Brouder, executive director of the foundation.

It’s now up to McAndrew to initiate the ripple effect, bringing what she’s learned to other students in Philadelphia.

“We like how educational Crown of the Continent is,” D’Addario Brouder said. “The fact that the festival is performance-based makes it a really unique experience.”

The foundation has supported the Rock to the Future program since the after-school sessions began in 2010, donating guitar strings, picks and any other supplies needed as enrollment jumped from 15 in 2010 to 300 last year.

The foundation also has been a Montana music supporter before, donating prize packages containing guitar straps, tuners and strings to the Northwest Artist Syndicate’s Singer Songwriter Showdown event in January.

D’Addario Brouder said the foundation hopes to continue the fellowship if budgets and opportunities allow. D’Addario has a camera crew following McAndrew in Philadelphia and in Bigfork, aiming to tell her story to share with other students in similar situations. It all comes back to filling the void in arts education left by budget cuts and funding.

“If you take art away from the kids, look who steps up,” Holly McAndrew, Lily’s mother, said of the scholarship series. “They might take it out of schools but you can’t really take it away from the kids as long as there’s this kind of support.”

You can hear music by McAndrew and her band from last summer’s Rock to the Future camp, Big Neon Spoon, by visiting rocktothefuture.bandcamp.com/track/big-neon-spoon-untitled.

For more information on The D’Addario Foundation and the Crown of the Continent fellowship, visit www.daddariofoundation.org.


Reporter Seaborn Larson may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at slarson@dailyinterlake.com.

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