[INTERVIEW]: Hall Pass Tour Founders Give Students Permission to Rock Out For Higher Education

Photo: (Facebook.com/HallPassTour)

Photo: (Facebook.com/HallPassTour)

When we were in school, hall passes weren’t good for much more than getting out of class to go to the bathroom. Thanks to Holley Murchison and Janelle Bechdol, however, the Hall Pass Tour is giving students permission to rock out.

When the two founders of the Hall Pass Tour first tossed around the idea of bringing concerts to students at their schools, they had no idea the kids would lose their minds during the shows (in a good way, of course). The concerts, which are put on for students, planned by students, and feature students, have one goal: get them excited about pursuing their dreams and becoming passionate about higher education.

To find out more, we spoke to the two founders to figure out what inspired the tour, what songs they can’t get enough of right now, and more:

ACT: People don’t really think of high-energy concerts and school as going hand in hand. Where did the idea for the Hall Pass Tour come from?

Holley: Well, in the fall of 2010, our now-headlining emcee, ScienZe, released a really cool mixtape called Hall Pass. ScienZe and I grew close after I interviewed him on my college radio show, and I suggested that he take the songs and perform them in schools. The logic behind it at the time was: Kids love your music, there’s a necessary message behind it that we have a responsibility to deliver, and, oftentimes, students can’t afford or aren’t old enough to attend concerts, so let’s bring the concert to them.

Janelle: I was working with an organization called College for Every Student. The CEO is a mentor of mine, and asked me to go to one of his schools in upstate New York to talk to their middle-schoolers and share my journey … and then maybe sing a few songs. I was like, “sure.” So I went. 300 kids. 6th through 8th grade. No biggie, right?

These. Kids. Went. HAM. They were dancing in the aisles — like, reaching out for me. Then they literally mobbed me to get an autograph. I was like, “What just happened?” They didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but because I took the time to come to them and kick it with them in their space, it was a different story. The human connection you make as an artist can’t be put into words — but with kids? It was unreal. So I went home and called Holley because I knew we both had a similar passion around doing this work. She was like, “Dude. I was JUST talking to ScienZe about this very idea.”

So we pitched the idea — of doing concerts in schools to get kids excited about higher learning — to Rick Dalton, the CEO of College for Every Student, who has a national network of over 500 schools. He said four words: “Sounds great. Do it.” And we were like, “Oh, snap. Does anyone know how to build a tour?” Holley and I had to figure that part out, which we’ve been doing for the past two years. Started from the bottom; now [we’re] here.

ACT: How does the tour get students excited about pursuing higher education?

Janelle: It’s a tour for students, planned by students and featuring students. Kids get to see their peers in multiple capacities: as opening acts, as leaders, as winners. As headliners and young adults, we simply help them connect the dots so they can see how learning and dreams go hand in hand. I think kids get the message that they need education over “here,” and their dreams are way over “there,” which could influence them to pursue one OR the other. They’re not being told that the two should actually be feeding each other.

So Sci will come in and say, “Yo. I’m a rapper. I went to Brooklyn College and majored in small business management, which helps me manage my career as an independent artist, nah mean?” I share with them that I studied rhetoric and classical music, so now as a singer I produce my own music because I know how to compose. And kids’ll be like, “that’s dope.”

Holley: Absolutely. We’re not just coming into communities and telling students that they can use education to pursue their dreams. We’re showing them how and empowering them to do it. We’re living, breathing examples of what happens when that possibility is explored fearlessly and unapologetically.

ACT: Can you share some of your favorite moments from the past two years with the tour?

Holley: So many memorable moments! Man. I’d definitely say my co-host, Elliott, from Plattsburgh High School in 2011 took the cake. He was really a natural, and I had a blast hosting with him. We even threw in an impromptu dance battle — where my moves prevailed. Outside of that experience, during our pilot tour we visited the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching in New York City, and for two hours their cafetorium (literally, a cafeteria and auditorium all in one) felt like Madison Square Garden. The students were incredibly receptive to our message, super-engaged and we had so much fun. I should have made my crowd-surfing debut that night.

Janelle: Hm. Let’s see. Hard to choose between rocking for over 5,000 eighth graders in an arena on top of a mountain in Kentucky, or maybe the mom in the Adirondacks region of New York who had three young kids and took off work from Family Dollar to come to the concert on a Friday night. She thanked us so much for providing a free event that inspired her and her kids. You could tell she was really struggling. We ended up adopting her family for the holidays, and the feeling I had when I saw those boxes go out STILL makes me tear up. I always say, “If someone ain’t cryin’, then we got more work to do,” but usually I’m the one crying.

ACT: What’s next for you and the Hall Pass Tour?

Janelle: More of this. Forever. I am a musical edu-preneur. That’s what I’m doing for the rest of my life. But first, I’m going to the Harvard Graduate School of Education to get smarter on the landscape of this education beast so I can better serve it.

Holley: High 5, J! With the tour, we’re really focused on enhancing the concert experience and continuing our expansion to different states across the U.S. This fall, we’re looking to bring our concerts to 10 to 15 new schools and community centers. Next spring, 15 more. Ultimately, we’ll take the international leap.

Outside of HPT, I’m personally focused on public speaking, coaching and consulting, as well as education and community development projects abroad. Next summer I’m headed to the Mt. Meru Region of Tanzania to help build a secondary school and dorm for girls.

ACT: What songs inspire you? What songs are you listening to this summer to get you pumped up for life and work?

Holley: I LIVE on Soundcloud. There’s a lot of music I listen to that gets me pumped, but ScienZe’s Natural High, TiRon & Ayomari’s They Go, Kendrick Lamar’s The Heart Pt. 3 and Ab-Soul’s Terrorist Threats really get me going. I’ll be bumping those even beyond the summer.

Janelle: Probably the project I’m working on. Ha. It’s the first body of work I produced myself, and it’s grueling, exciting, frustrating and inspiring. It’s my life’s work, so I’m amped to share it with the world in 2014. But through the summer, definitely the Gary Clark Jr. Blak and Blu album and throwback joints they play at Brooklyn barbecues and block parties — since that’s where I’ll be before I start school in August.

If you want to get involved with the Hall Pass Tour or help students get excited about education, check out the action links below. The Application of Interest is now open for schools and community centers interested in hosting a Hall Pass Tour concert this fall. Make sure you apply by July 1st to bring the Hall Pass Tour to your school!

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