Eight Nonprofits Changing the World with Music

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These artists and and organizations bring the transformative power of music to a world in need of education and healing.

It may be clichéd to say music soothes the soul. But in fact, music can resurrect a dying dream, empower the weak, and bring tears to the eyes of the hardened.

Being a musician isn't just about being a rock star—there are music artists from all walks of life (including some rock stars) who use their talents to help others. We talked to a panel of musicians whose nonprofits are changing the world through the power of instrument and song.

Guitars in the classroom

Cody Lovaas

A San Diego native, Cody Lovaas' music style reflect his love for surfing and the ocean. At 16 he’s already played with popular singer-songwriters like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, as well as surfer-musician Kelly Slater. But Lovaas has remained humble. His genuine care for people is evident in the way he spends his time.

When we caught up with Lovaas, he told us why he is involved with nonprofits.

I am involved with nonprofits for one reason, to help others as much as I can. In return, it does help me as I am a happier person afterwards. My music is inspired by everything that goes on around me and I often write about the stories I can take for these nonprofits.

One of the organizations Lovaas has worked with is Guitars In the Classroom, a nonprofit that provides free music integration classes for educators. Executive Director Jessica Baron explains how Lovaas impacts the children he works with.

When Cody performs in Guitars in the Classroom schools, the children fall head over heels in love with him. They learn to sing his songs in advance of his visit. He includes them on stage during his concerts. The students become fans to the very core of their young beings. They think and ask about him often and create beautiful thank you letters and drawings about him and his music. He receives hundreds of these expressions of love and gratitude and they bring him joy in return.

Cody does not perform for our nonprofit in order to help his career and the result is that he is building a very devoted young fan base because his performances are genuine gifts. The kids feel it. His heart shines through every time.

Thanks to people like Lovaas and organizations like Guitars in the Classroom, kids fall in love with music instead of the wrong things. Lovaas’ passion for music and his kindness are truly contagious.

Need to bring some harmony to your classroom? Take a look at the Musician’s Friend Kids and Classroom Instruments Buying Guide.

Bedside concerts

Darius Rucker and Musicians on Call

Anyone who has had to stay in a hospital for more than a few days, understands how hard it can be. Not only do you have to deal with your illness or injury, but the boredom can make it that much worse. Musicians on Call (MOC) is a nonprofit that is bringing joy and life to these hospital rooms through live music. Since 1999 MOC artists have performed for nearly half a million patients.

President Pete Griffin told us how MOC is impacting patients.

We use music to promote and complement the healing process for patients, families, and caregivers. This simple process can bring about miraculous changes for patients. We’ve seen veterans move their injured limbs to the music—and children smile for the first time since they’ve been in the hospital to receive treatment for cancer. These one-on-one interactions between musician and patient have the powerful effect of restoring the happiness that often fades away in healthcare facilities.

If you want to donate your time to play what could be the most important concert of your musical career, drop a line to the good folks at Musicians On Call.

Big Easy roots

Derrick Tabb

Growing up in New Orleans wasn't always easy, but Derrick Tabb turned to music to help him get through the struggles of adolescence. A successful drummer who started playing at five, Tabb is the snare drummer for the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band. But Tabb wanted to give back, so in 2007 he started his nonprofit, The Roots of Music.

I saw the direction that our youth were taking in New Orleans and wanted to make a difference. I remembered my struggles as a kid and those that reached out to me to save me from self destruction. I knew what it was that kept me out of trouble when I was young, and that was music. I also knew what it would take to catch kids’ attention. So, I started Roots of Music and have not looked back since!

Tabb uses music education to connect with students, help them learn self-discipline and make good life choices. Not only has Tabb changed the lives of inner-city kids forever, he has become a better musician.

It definitely has strengthened my music career by challenging me more as a musician. I am constantly studying more, making more beats/ tracks, writing more music for my band and teaching. This keeps my skills fresh as a musician.

In 2009 Tabb was honored by being named one of CNN's Top Ten Heroes and he continues using his skill and passion for music to alter the destiny of many students.

Wherever they may roam

Danny Felsteiner Mekori of Musicians without Borders

Danny Felsteiner Mekori merges the roles of world traveler, musician and IT whiz. After studying music at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague in the Netherlands, he spent time training musicians and teaching music workshops in Ireland, Sweden, Jordan and all over Africa. Mekori is currently working with Musicians without Borders on their IT services and communications strategy.

Danny talked about the wonderful things Musicians Without Borders is doing all over the globe.

Although our programs are very diverse, they all give a ‘voice to the voiceless’ and provide a safe place for people who have been marginalized by conflict to express themselves, develop and connect with each other and their communities.

Mekori believes the power of music can produce change in youth, no matter what kind of situation they live in.

For children in Palestinian refugee camps, HIV+ youth in Central Africa, or aspiring young rock musicians in ethnically divided Kosovo, making music helps develop talents, connect with others and express hopes and dreams. Empowered by these experiences, many become role models for their peers, or teachers for children in their own communities.

If you’re a musician interested in expanding your own horizons and effecting social change, Musicians Without Borders would love to hear from you.

The west coast school

Nate Zeisler of the Colburn School

With both bachelor's degree in choral and instrumental education and a doctorate in musical arts, Nate Zeisler has always been a student of music. That’s the underpinning for his conviction that all children have access to arts education, not just those from wealthy families. As the Director of Community Engagement at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, Zeisler works hard to make that a reality.

Zeisler on why he believes music education is so important:

There is a huge value in advocating for music programs in the community. Developing a community of learners through active participation is how students develop soft skills so necessary in the 21st century workforce. Skills like collaboration, stick-withitness, creativity, communication, responsibility, and critical thinking are all skills that are necessary for employment.

Zeisler encourages others to consider getting involved with existing nonprofits before seeking to start their own.

If someone is interested in advocating for the the value of music education in their own community, the best way to start is to get a sense of what is already happening in the community and ask to get involved through a preexisting organization. When it comes to advocacy, there is power in numbers and often advocacy organizations could use an extra hand. Organizations like the NEA [National Education Association] or Americans for the Arts are great places to start your research.

Zeisler's passion is contagious, and he has already helped hundreds of students pursue a career in music.

Music that cares

Erica Krusen of MusiCares

Erica Krusen is the Senior Director for the MusiCares Foundation, a nonprofit that provides a safety net for musicians in times of need.

Krusen shared with us what that looks like:

The greatest need varies greatly by the professional. A touring musician may need assistance with the preventative medical assistance to keep them healthy and performing at their optimal level. The elder music professional may see more need for medical care and health insurance guidance.

MusiCares can also be seen at large concerts helping artists protect their ears.

We also focus on preventative medical initiatives, such as, our one day hearing clinics offered backstage at several major festivals around the country, such as, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella and the upcoming Pilgrimage Festival in Nashville, TN. These efforts have greatly increased an overall awareness into hearing protection via our free hearing screenings and complimentary musician’s earplugs.

Thanks to Krusen and her colleagues at MusiCares, musicians and music industry veterans find help both in the times of crisis as well as in dealing with the realities of a life in music.

Rock to the future

Katie Feeney of Rock to the Future

Musician Katie Feeney has always been an advocate for healthier, more vibrant communities. After she graduated from Penn State, she spent two years with AmeriCorps working on the Community Water Watch program. Katie is currently the Development Director of Rock to the Future (RTTF), a nonprofit that provides free music education to youth in Philadelphia.

Feeney shared a touching story about how Rock to the Future is changing one teen's life:

We have a 14-year-old drum student named Ethan who has Asperger Syndrome. Ethan comes from a single-parent household without the financial ability to afford music lessons. Prior to joining Rock to the Future, Ethan was bullied by classmates, socialized with much younger children, and attended special education classes below his grade level at school. At RTTF, Ethan discovered an incredible natural musical ability that has impressed peers, staff, and spectators alike.

This has improved his self-confidence dramatically. Two years ago he was elected to the student council at his school, and he is the drummer in the RTTF student house band, which performs in front of thousands of people annually. Ethan is now in general education classes, rather than special needs, and carries a 3.3 GPA.

With stories like that, it's easy to want to be involved! Feeney told us how other musicians can make an impact.

One way to support music education in Philadelphia would be to become a Rock to the Future BANDmate by making a monthly donation of $10 or more via our website, or donate your money, talents or time to an organization doing similar work in your local community.

Even if your schedule is full, it's still possible to get involved in something big, by helping out organizations like Rock to the Future.

Foundational assistance

Chris Flynn

Aspiring young musicians across America are benefiting from the Fender Music Foundation, a nonprofit that provides instruments to music education programs. Social Media Marketer Chris Flynn explained why kids need these programs:

Statistics from research show students who participate in music education programs versus those that do not:

  • Are more likely to succeed in higher levels of education
  • Increased class attendance
  • Higher GPA
  • Improved reading and writing, math skills, and develop skills to make music
  • Occupies student’s time in a positive way and strengthens self-esteem

Flynn is passionate about kids succeeding in life, and has seen first hand how the Fender Music Foundations helps.

When we deliver donated instruments in person, I get a first-hand experience, which validates why I do what I do. Seeing people with the opportunity to make music truly strengthens my belief that music education and therapy programs are crucial to our society.

We need more organizations like Fender Music Foundation to provide instruments to kids that can't afford them. You can help by volunteering your services.

More than a rock star

All over the world, people are making a difference through the healing and soothing power of music. Whether it be teaching a young boy who was born into poverty how to play the piano, or offering a song to a woman dying of cancer, music heals and revitalizes. Think about how you can get involved in some of these organizations—your involvement in music can make a big difference in others’ lives.


# Kisha Johnson 2016-07-28 21:38
I am a single mother who has a 15 year old son who loves music. He started out in Jr High school playing the Trombone. Now that he is in High school he is playing the baritone in the marching band and the saxophone at church and also he has taught himself to play the keyboard. He learns all his music by ear and by watching You-Tube videos. My son has now started teaching himself how to make beats and also writing music. he tells me that he needs a mac book or something that he can record his music on, but I can't afford it. Can you please tell me where I may receive some help with helping him fulfill his dream of becoming a musicians.
# J 2016-05-09 09:54
volunteer music

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