Music Matters! We often underestimate the importance of exposing high school students to the fine arts – particularly music. Which is why, when school districts are forced to stretch their budget, it is art and music classes which are cut first. When my children were growing up, we lived in a privileged neighborhood. If there was a shortage of funding at school, the parents would gather and write checks to cover the shortfall. But most communities across the US cannot do the same. In the Wellpinit School district, not only can parents not afford to cover any shortfall, but fully 100% of students are on subsidized or free lunches. It will not surprise you, then, to hear that there are no instruments in their music program.
ArtsFund, a Puget Sound based company that provides grants to public art projects, released a study in 2018 that complied data from around the region showing that the arts have a significant impact on our quality of life. From success in school to mental and physical wellness to the health of neighborhoods, the arts are necessary for our communities to thrive. Did you know, for example, that “At risk students involved in arts are 23 percentage points more likely to attend college than peers with low arts involvement”? And yet this research and these revelations have not translated into funding for these important programs.
When I joined the Board of Directors of Music Aid Northwest, I proposed a gala to raise money for high school music programs. They had not had much success with their initial idea of raising funds with a concert. I wanted to do something different, and provide guests willing to donate with an unforgettable evening. We moved away from traditional fundraising choices, such as auctions, and focused on highlighting the unbelievable talent the Pacific Northwest has produced, from local Battle of the Bands winners to classically-trained student musicians. A $250 general admission ticket gives guests a chance to enjoy stellar musicians and see just how impactful the program has been. The host who purchases a table of 8 persons for a total of $5,000 gets to play a song or two with the band. Excitingly, we have even caught the attention of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers like Heart’s Steve Fossen and Michael Derosier. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alan White of Yes (and also the drummer on John Lennon’s “Imagine” – a song I feel is one of the greatest of all time). This year, the program was closed with No Rules getting the entire room to their feet and dancing. I have never had more fun at a gala, and my guests all agree.
But what is most important is the good that we do. We raised over $125,000, all of which will be going to high school music programs. Last year, the average grant was $3,700 so the money is widely spread. In the Wellpinit School district, where 100% of the students are on subsidized lunch, there had not been a band in 30 years and no choir in 20 years. The grant went to buy ukuleles and the music program is now established with a band and choir. The Roy Elementary School classroom in Yelm, Washington was destroyed in the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. The part-time music teacher was buying instruments from her own salary. A $5,000 grant purchased new instruments for the classroom and both the principal and superintendent who had to sign off on the grant decided to repair the classroom and increase the teacher to nearly full-time.
By the way, I have no musical talent at all. I sing off-key and cannot follow a beat, but I believe this is more than just writing a check to a favorite charity. It is having fun while making a big difference in the lives of students who would never have the exposure if not for those who attend Play It Forward.
Think about either attending next year. You will have a great time!! If you are from out of town Seattle is a fun place to visit as well. Make it a short weekend trip or even a week vacation.
And thank you so much to those who were in attendance. You have made a big difference in the lives of local students.
 “Social Impact of the Arts Study.” ArtsFund, 2018. Pg. 2.https://www.artsfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ArtsFund_2018_SIS_11.6.pdf