If you’ve never played Rock Band or Guitar Hero, you might not understand. I didn’t “get it” either, but then my buddy’s kids got the game for Christmas in 2007. They were excited as could be, performing songs and ignoring all the other gifts under the tree. They kept begging the adults to play, and it certainly did look like a lot of fun. It was like karaoke on steroids, a sing-along that also had pseudo instruments that players would strum or drum in synch with the notes on the screen.

“Come on Van,” they said, “you’ve got to try it!”

I finally gave in. “OK, kids. I’ll try it once, but old Van isn’t much of a musician.”

As I picked up the plastic guitar, they explained how I was supposed to hold down the colored buttons while “strumming” a switch in time to the music. It didn’t take long to flunk out. My past frustration trying to learn the guitar came back to haunt me, but the drums looked like they might be easier. I volunteered to try them for a song, and flunked out again. I had failed, but I was a little better on the drums and decided to give it one last shot. The next song was easier, and I was able to keep up and finish it! Victory was mine, and the kids seemed just as excited to have a new band mate as I was to “play the drums.”

Several months later, I finally spotted a lone Wii console at the local Walmart (this was back in 2008 when the Wii was in high demand and short supply). I purchased Rock Band as well, and launched a new chapter in my life. I upgraded my equipment with the pro drums and keyboard, as well as two backup microphones, and invested in sequels and additional tracks by my favorite bands. I eventually switched from the Wii to the Xbox in order to get the Stage Kit, a great effects package that includes colored LEDs, a strobe light, and even fog. Fog!!!

I found that the game was a lot more fun with the upgraded gear and special effects, and it really started to feel like playing an actual instrument in a rock band. I noticed that people would really get into it, allowing their imagination to be free and “giving themselves permission” to be a rock star. It was great! Even better, whenever young people had a chance to join us, they would instantly become the rock heroes they were emulating. They weren’t just singing the words; they were Bon Jovi or Justin Bieber or Kelly Clarkson.

Fortunately, it also made for a great bonding experience with moms and dads. Little kids don’t realize that songs by the Rolling Stones are now dated and “uncool;” they only know that it sounds and feels great to play like Mick & Keef! I developed a vision of a trailer fitted with additional lighting, a PA system with stage monitors, and additional screens and projector mount, and I knew what I wanted to do with it. I’d been lucky enough to enjoy a successful career as a lawyer, and I could afford to give back to my community that has blessed me with incredible opportunities.        

Providing Fun and Escape

I decided to use the Rock Band trailer to pass along the gift of music to children suffering from diseases or other health challenges. Their imagination is so powerful that they can truly be a rock star for one night. The game is a chance to forget about all their problems and challenges, a break from pain and stress that lets them just be a kid again and have fun.

Taping their performance will give them and their family a chance to relive the magic, capturing their big moment in the lights on film. We want to make it an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.

If you know someone special who would benefit from the therapeutic power of music, please invite them to join us. There are many ways for you to participate and help us:

  • Come join us for an evening of rock and roll. It’s free!
  • Bring any Rock Band gear for Xbox so we can have spare parts. We also accept used music and A/V gear.
  • Add your song to the playlist and perform on stage for a small donation.
  • Donate a complete game so performers can learn to play before the big event.
  • Fund a “gig” for a child facing special challenges or someone who needs healing.
  • Help get the word out by sharing this on social media, e-mail, etc.
  • Volunteer for our “Roadie Crew,” helping with transportation and setup.
  • Sponsor us—we’ll put your logo on the rig.

Those are just some of the ways you can help us change lives with music, and we welcome any of your suggestions.

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Charles V. Hardenbergh
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