Teaching self-worth, discipline and focus through music

Francis Hilario and Hope Janelle Berninghausen of Philadelphia Neighborhoods caught up with a number of Northwest Philadelphia artists for an artist spotlight series this week. Today’s installment features Daniel Cullen of Rawk U School of Music. 


Music has been a part of Daniel Cullen’s life ever since he first picked up an acoustic guitar at age 11. Now Cullen has the opportunity to share his passion for music with others through Rawk U School of Music in East Falls.

“I know I’m pretty lucky, first of all, so I try to think of that every day,” Cullen said. “I know most people don’t get to make a living off of something that they truly have an interest or a passion for so it’s a pretty satisfying feeling at the end of the day.”

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The music school, which Cullen founded in 2008, first started in his house in South Philadelphia, but a growing roster of students forced him to find another space. Now, located on Scotts Lane in Sherman Mills, Cullen is able to teach a wide variety of students ranging from eight to 60 years old.

Working with local schools in the past, Cullen started the music school so that he could teach music in a different way.

“Some music schools want you to teach the basics like how to read music right away,” Cullen said. “I like to get someone playing right away so they have some tangible result. I always go back to the basics. I just do it in a roundabout way.”

Cullen said he believes that music helps other aspects of students’ lives.

“I think the basic thing that music really teaches is a sense of self-worth and discipline,” Cullen said. “If you’re going to have to sit and practice something for half an hour to 45 minutes a day, then that’s showing a skill that can be carried on later in life. It’s really just focus and energy spent on one task and seeing what the results can be when you put a lot of time into something.”

Cullen said music has not only helped his students in this aspect but has also helped him as well.

“It’s helped me just learn how to keep things in order and have a focus in life and get things done in an orderly fashion,” Cullen said. “If I didn’t have that kind of intense focus, I don’t think I’d be able to do stuff like what I do now like run my own business. The drive to always continue to want to get better is still there in my life.”

Cullen said that the school has helped at least one student change his life for the better.

Joey Carioti, who is from an underprivileged area in Port Richmond, began working with Cullen three years ago. Carioti later approached Cullen for help in preparing an audition piece for the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts.

“Now he’s going to school for free for four years,” Cullen said. “He said to me before [that] if he didn’t have music in his life, he might have gotten into some trouble [and] gone down a totally different path so I feel proud of that fact that I helped him get into [the school].”

As for the future of Rawk U School of Music, Cullen said he would like to expand the number of students to the point of opening a second school in order to accommodate the numbers. Cullen said he would also like to get involved with local schools in order to expose more young students to music.

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