Kurt and Katie Braun discovered that music is not only a universal language- it’s study and practice enhances academic performance of students. As part of their legacy, they formed the Higgins Braun Foundation to promote the power of music and bring it to the lives of young students.
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Kurt and Katie Braun and they're founders of the Higgins Braun Foundation. Welcome to today's show.
Katie: Thank you
Alan: So you have a very interesting past and I am for the listeners I'd like you to take me up on your career path and some of the things that you've done in your life before we get into the establishment of the foundation.
Kurt: Well we're both products of the California or Alameda public schools. I'm from northern California, Katie is from Southern California- but public school system and we both went to Cal Berkeley and graduated there with bachelor's degrees. But we basically I'm like the the idea of- well when I grew up, during high school I was a band geek. So having music as a focus for kids is what we like to promote. Research shows- Brown University, Northwestern University, UC Irvine, there's studies that show that brain structure for kids changes if they study and learn to play a musical instrument. It's undeniable, they do better in math and other subjects... So me being a band geek I ended up being an engineer, but I did get a on a scholarship for fine arts from Bank of America, they acknowledged me in High School, but I went on to get my degree in engineering. So even with a 3- 4 hours of music today through all my public school years it's, it translated and I want to bring that to kids as much as we can because we're fortunate with our lifestyle and our means and what have you- we've we started this foundation.
Katie: And I came into music a little more later in life insomuch as I didn't study it at all while being in school, once I got out of Berkeley, I'd started work on Wall Street, I had a career on Wall Street for 20 years, the bulk of which was with Montgomery securities where I was a partner in institutional sales. And it was our dream, because we had met bare boat chartering in the Caribbean back in 1983 to go sailing. So in our early forties, Kurt sold his business, I quit my job, and we took off to circumnavigate. We spent the next 10 years sailing around the world well why we were doing that we noticed that you can go into a community where nobody speaks English and clearly you're not speaking on it you know kuribass or you know or Samoan or a language that you didn't learn before but yet if you sit down with a guitar and start playing music with other people it's a universal language that everybody can relate to and it's in a way to exchange a little bit of contact with locals without necessarily I just being a cargo cult where you're giving them things- just get bestowing them with gifts. So instead a it's a gift of your time and your effort-
Kurt: -Cultural exchange
Katie: And they really appreciate it and respect that and we actually didn't start off sailing and playing guitar because we want to make sure the boat was working and everything was fine. But as soon as we got comfortable, because I didn't know anything about sailing- with the actual moving of the boat, we decided to pick up playing guitar because we were buddy boating with another cruiser friend who at the time was 74 years old. And he had started playing guitar when he was 65. So when we made the comment well we can't start because were you know in our early forties, he said, 'well I didn't start until I was 65'. So you know that's one of the things about music, it's never too late to learn to play music or to have some involvement with music. So that I started basically in my early forties and Kurt having been trained classically as a trumpet player he can read music and he was a a great inspiration to me although, a lot of people say can you sail around the world and still be happily married, that part was easy learning to play guitar with my husband was probably a lot more challenging.
Kurt: We can appreciate what it takes for a band to stay together.
Katie: That's right. Although that is part of what's interesting about music too is that when you have 2 people playing together, the hormones and the endorphins they get released out of your body having this joining of experience with another person because you're so in sync because you have to listen so carefully. And then the sound that you create is so much more powerful than something you can do on your own, it really gives you that sense of community and team work.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Kurt and Katie Braun and I need to take a quick break, and we'll be right back after this message.
Alan: In the first segment you touched on something lightly, I want to go into it a little bit more, but sailing around the world, how many people have done that in their own boat and what was the inspiration behind that?
Kurt: I would say there's a few hundred people a year that are out there floating around the planet. Usually couples, we're not talking big yachts with crews here, we're just talking maybe families, mom and pop, a couple a kid's as an alternative lifestyle. And I was introduced to this through my dad who was a sailor and his dad was a sailor. And basically I did do two trips through the South Pacific as a young guy right out of college, met Katie somewhere along the line, and she shared the the dream to do that. It gives you a a bigger perspective I feel of the world, most people are kind of stuck in their own little hometown view of things or what the media feeds them through their TV or the internet, but to get out there and actually see the world for yourself- just arriving at a country having to deal with the officials, checking and then the locals. We're talking everything from a small island nation in the middle of the Pacific to
Kurt: Singapore or an EU country or something. We've been to probably around 90 countries in our travels.
Alan: So what are some of the more unusual places that you've visited?
Katie: Kuribass, we were on an island where they hadn't had a visiting boat in 7 years, so the children that were 7 years and younger had never seen a white person before and the stories that the parents would tell the young kids is that white people basically are ghosts and if you're bad they're going to grab you and take you away if you're a bad kid. There's a little bit of history to that in so much as blackbirding occurred by the English, to come into those areas in those countries to basically get the young man and take him off to work the cane fields, the sugar cane fields. So that did occur to a certain point but obviously that stopped long long ago but the parents found a reason to continue with the story-
Kurt: We being white people showing up for the first time for some of these kids, they were quite intimidated when we set foot on the beach there with our dinghy.
Katie: And the people were living in houses where every single part of the house and shelter came from a pandanus plant or a coconut tree, I mean handmade twine and thatch roofs and you know grass mats. You know, no nails no glass, no plastic, no-
Katie: No, no electricity. They did have- maybe the Jon Darm, the police would have had electricity just for a satellite phone, but the regular houses didn't have electricity nor running water. And yet that island was probably one of the cleanest places we've ever seen on the planet. Because the culture of that particular island of about 200 people was to keep their houses tidy and neat and clean and to have orderly lives, so it's what Kurt was telling you, it helps to get more of the better understanding, not only about the planet but also about humanity, because it shows you how much influence the leadership of that island can have on helping the population out as a whole live more productive lives.
Alan: Now language, do they speak English or was it their native tongue?
Katie: Well there's a few English speaking people because their outside means of income is merchant marines. So as some of the men get to be adult age, they'll go off for maybe 6 months out of the year and work on commercial ships and then they come back to the island and send the money back. So they learn to speak English, but a lot of time, a lot of the places we've been to, they don't speak any English at all. Which again, which is why music was so interesting because it was a way to communicate with them. And it's funny because no matter where you go in the world, everybody knows Hotel California, La Bamba, Country Roads... is like these iconic songs that we grew up with as kids have some how transcended the cultures across the whole globe.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Kurt and Katie Braun, they're the founders of the Higgins Braun Foundation and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm here today with Kurt and Katie Braun and we're talking about the foundation they established, the Higgins Braun Foundation, and in the last segment, we talked about some of the trials that you had around the world, but I imagine that as an ice breaker, you use music a lot.
Kurt: Yeah, coming ashore you're a total stranger, basically you need to seek out some sort of official, either a police or- on a lot of these island nations they've got hardly any officials there so it's... So basically we ask them if we can play for their kids at their school just a way to introduce ourselves to the little village- just a couple hundred people there- again language is a barrier but we started playing these start playing our pop rock songs on guitar and it's amazing that they actually know some of these songs- John Denver and the Eagles and it's amazing. But we do he find it to be an ice breaker and sometimes they want to play for us. So some of their instruments are pretty rough sometimes, I mean they'll have an old guitar that's down to four strings strung like a ukulele with fishing wire and some rocks to tighten it up. So we have parts on the boat, we'd fix the guitar up to to what it's supposed to be they're just overjoyed with that- especially the guy who originally brought the guitar there who's since passed it off to his kids or whatever to maybe try to learn how to play it but anyhow it's a real on ice breaker. But our whole purpose of using music- it's basically more than just an icebreaker, when we finished our trip around the world for philanthropy, some people just write a check to some sort of charity or what have you, but in our travels we found that we want to do something that actually helps people help themselves. So we're talking education here. And so that's how we got into this whole education thing with focus on music and with the studies that have been done with with using music education to help kids focus and give them in general, a better education, that's what the study show. So our by traveling around the world and we did get this idea that this is the best way for us to pass on- because we don't have any kids. We really needed to figure out some some sort of philanthropic vehicle, and that's what we came up with, this foundation. And sure there's other out there that have also discovered this, but there's a lot of them and it's hard to get people find these organizations if they're scattered all around different parts of the country. So we just decided to just see how it goes, start this foundation, and try to start locally- just here in town, Oakland, Alameda, Bay Area... there's a few in L.A. the harmony project in L.A., YMCO here in Oakland, Bay Area Musicians, so anyway we're just getting this thing off the ground and these are all organizations that we would support. Open String, El Sistema is a is an international organization, so it can it can expand, but most people have never heard of any of these organizations, so maybe that could be one of our goals- to get this information out there and get people to use support these existing- because we're not prepared to be an active charity at this point.
Alan: But you are trying to instill- the public school system today has a lot of challenges in financing and the programs. It seems that some of the first to drop are these arts programs like music. When you're out to work with at individuals is a certain age group you want a target?
Katie: Minors- basically under the age of 21 because- well first of all we should say that we think that anybody at any age learning to play a musical instrument or sing can benefit from that intellectually because that music helps- the discipline of music and the practice is like learning a foreign language, those are two things that can actually increase the synopsis within your brain- the connections that connect your brain cells. So it helps to keep Alzheimer's at bay, if you're younger though, because we do like to see young people succeed in life, it helps was studying, with focus and discipline and teamwork as you start playing with other people in a band or an orchestra. So it is mostly less than 21 years old of age but we do think that anyone any age- and we're testament to that in learning to play guitar in our forties- we got a lot of benefit out of it, we got a lot of joy out of it, we still do, and we continue to take vocal lessons and sing and practice but mostly minors we think could benefit the most because of the cutting in the public school system. And so many parents- and we're both athletic, we believe in sports, so many parents get the sports connection of teamwork and discipline with their children and getting them some exercise, but when you're 70 years old you're not going to be playing soccer but when you're 70 years old you might still be playing a trumpet or a clarinet or saxophone or the drums or the piano, so it's a skill that you can use your whole life to practice the international language in communicating with other people on on any sort of level and even a bad musician is better than no musician. It means you're making an effort to try to communicate with somebody else.
Alan: So Kurt and Katie we're out of time today but I've really enjoyed having you here and listening toe the cause of bringing more music into the lives of the minors. I've been visiting here today with Kurt and Katie Braun and they're the founders of the Higgins Braun Foundation. Well we'll be right back after these messages.