Two years ago Michael was a high school sophomore with marginal grades. He didn’t see the need to apply himself in school; after graduation he assumed he’d follow in the footsteps of all his family members before him; he’d get a low-wage, service job. Then he joined our music program.
Michael learned he had a talent for playing guitar even though it was something he never thought he’d have a chance to do; he earned his guitar (from Music for Life) in his Junior year and during his Senior year he helped teach guitar to new students entering our program. His resignation to follow in the family footsteps was replaced with hope for a brighter future; he learned that there were other opportunities for him if he applied himself.
Michael’s attitude changed, his grades improved and last June he graduated high school with honors; this fall (2013) he’s enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College. His ambition is to become a music educator; his family could not be more proud of him.
Michael’s story is repeated many times over, every year in our classrooms. The youth we work with have the same potential as every other youth but the environments they are born into and the socioeconomic barriers they face make it near impossible for them to believe. Music for Life engages them with successful people and provides them the confidence, discipline and guidance necessary for them to pursue the possibilities versus succumbing to the adversity into which they were born.
What is the mission of Music for Life?
Music for Life’s mission is to reduce the number of school age youth born into adverse circumstances – poverty, dysfunctional families or communities – who become adults living in those circumstances. We want these youth to become contributing, self sufficient adults versus a burden on society. We fulfill our mission by providing these youth opportunities in their communities that support and stimulate their educational interests as well as help them overcome the barriers and stresses inherent to their situation.
How does Music for Life and music improve conditions for underprivileged kids?
We provide an after school music and mentoring program. Studies show that bringing programs into neighborhoods is the most effective way to improve the attitude in that community as well as reduce crime and gang activity. Research also shows a strong correlation between music education and a person’s success in life. Youth involved in a quality music program tend to do better in school; score higher on standardized tests; be less inclined to engage in risky behavior; and be more inclined to take advantage of positive opportunities made available to them. In addition to its educational value, learning music is also a release for stressful emotions that can’t otherwise be expressed. Music is particularly effective in today’s diverse society because it appeals to youth of any age, gender, race; religion or cultural background; there are no stereotypes associated with who can learn to play.
Does Music for Life just use guitars?
To increase our impact we must increase our capacity for serving youth; not only by adding new teaching locations but also by broadening the scope of who and what we teach. By becoming Music for Life we gained the flexibility to move beyond guitar lessons for a specific youth demographic.
We began teaching acoustic guitar lessons to middle and high school age youth. In the fall of 2013 we are adding a percussion class for elementary school age youth. The objective is to teach these youth the basics of rhythm and beat as well as instill in them the disciplines required to learn how to play an instrument. In 2014 we plan to add guitar classes for Opportunity Youth; 16-24 year olds who are not in school or employed. Nationwide, 6.7 million (or 17%) young people aged 16-24 are estimated to be disconnected, at the cost of $93 billion annually. Unemployment of young people is at a historic high and communities across the country are in search of solutions that will truly move the needle. In 2014 we also plan to add electric and bass guitar classes for advanced students.
Tell us about some of the things Music for Life has been doing.
Through collaborations with other music organizations we are leveraging our strengths with theirs to bring music opportunities to more youth. Music for Life provides equipment to organizations that have teaching credentials but not the equipment required to allow all students, regardless of income, to participate. Recent examples include our partnership with Youth for Tomorrow. That partnership permits them to operate a full time guitar program for all students; they provide the teachers, we provide the equipment. Through August 2013 295 additional deserving youth have had the opportunity to learn guitar; 71 have completed the beginner’s course and earned a guitar of their own. In September 2013 we entered similar partnerships with the Salvation Army and the Bishop O’Connell High School guitar programs. We provided 83 guitars plus some amps, strings and stands to the Salvation Army; 15 guitars to Bishop O’Connell High School. Hundreds more now have the opportunity to learn guitar through these organizations.
These partnerships not only increase the number of students served; they also raise awareness of the need and draw attention to those of us using music to make a difference. Increased attention attracts more volunteers and funding thus allowing us to serve more youth.
This is a huge problem. Is Music for Life sustainable?
While we continued to do business as Guitars not Guns through 2012, we had already incorporated as an independent, standalone nonprofit back in 2010. During those three years we more than tripled both our annual revenue and net assets; that growth trend is continuing in 2013. What we’re really doing is rebranding ourselves under a new name; the organization and support structure has not changed. Music for Life continues to strengthen the organization. We are moving from an all volunteer model to one where there is paid staff to perform the logistical tasks associated with operating the program as well as collecting and analyzing performance measurement data.
We have a detailed Performance Measurement Plan and we know the benefits that can be derived from a quality music program. Our next step is to secure the resources necessary to execute that plan and ensure that our program is achieving the desired results. We are participants in United Way, The Combined Federal Campaign and the World Bank Community Connections Campaign. We have a Guidestar Gold rating for transparency. Our funding has increased every year despite the poor economy and we’re confident in our ability to continue growing.
Music for Life currently serves the metropolitan Washington DC area. Once we have established a proven, sustainable model in this region, we’ll begin transporting it to other communities.
Musopia Ltd, recently came on board to sponsor Music for Life.
“This program is a natural extension of our mission to simplify music instruction and bring people together,” said Paula Lehto, marketing director for Musopia. “We believe that an app like FourChords can be used for more than just having fun and learning to play guitar; the app can help raise money for a worthy cause too.”
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Skip Chaples, president, Music for Life. “App users receive a great song to learn, and at the same time provide the gift of music to a person in need, helping to foster a lifelong passion for music and a better life.”
Download the FourChords Guitar Karaoke App for iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in the App Store here: taps.io/MTM3Mzgw . The Music for Life song collection is available in the Songbook within the app.