Musician Tom Petty once said, “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.” The study, playing, performing of and listening to music certainly does all of these incredible things, but Music Unites, a non-profit organization, believes music can do more. Michelle Edgar, the wonder force behind Music Unites and agent at ICM Partners, known for her marketing and campaign work for stars such as Mary J. Blige, Imagine Dragons, Andra Day and Gary Clark Jr., had a vision for all the young shining stars waiting in the wings: fund and support music education and programming in underserved schools and communities.
Edgar, both Founder and Executive Director, explains that it’s not just the music programming that is important (and it is important!), but the opportunities for students to work with industry mentors. Edgar, a concert pianist in her own right, explains,
“Both my passion for music, and its attendant disciplined instruction and practice shaped my academic success and personal development. I wanted to find a way to make a difference through music.
Philanthropy doesn’t just have to be an impersonal $1000 check, but can be one small action at a time.” Edgar’s small actions grew into a larger purpose: Music Unites.
Over the past decade, school districts have trimmed and eliminated arts education due to budget cuts or the redirection of funding to support STEM instruction. Parents and teachers understand that arts instruction, an immersion in literature, music, fine arts and dance, is necessary for intellectual and creative development of children. Musical training, in particular, produces long lasting changes in motor abilities and brain structure by “transfer”: rhythm instruction fosters math skills (proportions, patterns, fractions, and ratios) and temporal and reasoning abilities (sensory interpretation, critical thinking, and memory). When kids participate in musical instruction (just 30 minutes a week for a year and the earlier the better), the connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is markedly stronger; these students have higher standardized test scores and greater academic success.
However, in the absence of funding for arts instruction, schools must rely more often on private funds and patrons to make up the difference.
Music Unites defines its mission as raising “academic and lifetime achievement for at-risk public-school students through the support and creation of unique music education partnerships and programs.” These music programs, currently based in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, introduce and foster music appreciation through free instruction (choir, guitar, music instruction), venues for performances with audiences who support the young performers, and according to Edgar through mentorship programs with industry mentorship. Students’ long-term academic success and career dreams.
Recently, students attended a studio/Q & A session with Aton Ben-Horin, American music executive and record producer with A&R/Warner Music Group and the mastermind for hits like Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty to Me and Wiggle, Flo Rida’s “My house” and David Guetta’s Hey Mama; John Lindahl, pop singer from The X Factor US, now signed by rapper Logic to his own record label; J Erving, from Maverick, who manages some of today’s biggest artist and pop icons like Meghan Trainor, John Legend and Nelly; and Harold Owens who has used his own recovery from addiction to work with MusiCares, a Grammy funded operation that allows musicians and others in the industry to get the help they need without worrying about expenses. The take away? All twenty-seven kids wanted copies of the book mentioned by Ben-Horin as key to success in the industry: All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Musicians and Moguls in the Making! Michelle made it happen and the next day placed the order through Amazon overnight so that all the students from Centennial High School would get it in time for the holidays.
You might think that it takes superhuman abilities to imagine and build a philanthropic organization but really, all that is necessary is passion and purpose. Want to know Michelle Edgar’s secret?
Here are Michelle Edgar’s Philanthropic Passion + Purpose Hacks:
- Passion + Purpose: “I was lucky in that my parents had the financial resources to support my piano instruction and encouraged me to follow my passion. I practiced after school for three hours a day, six days a week. I got to see the world, traveling with my piano teacher through Europe. My mother even took me to Chopin’s house in Poland. Everything was in place to help me succeed in my dream. In my early twenties, I was working as a beauty journalist at Women’s Wear Daily, and by that I mean I wasn’t playing piano anymore. Music was missing from my life and I felt that absence. At the same time, I was interested in philanthropy and had one thousand dollars to donate to a music charity. But that felt impersonal, so instead, I committed to fund a choir program in New York City for three years. My dad, worried that I’d overextended myself in my charitable enthusiasm, said, “Where is the money going to come from? You don’t have it.” That was the beginning of Music Unites and I was going to find musicians and industry professionals, already passionate and music, and ask them to expand their purpose.
- Purpose + Pros: “Music Unites offers music instruction in schools (choir, instrumental band programs, beats production and guitar lessons) and supports public performances. I like to believe that our “lessons” extend past the hours in and after school and continuously shape our kids dreams. When I started fundraising for Music Unites, I wanted to surprise potential donors, so we’d have a Hip Hop performance on a hotel rooftop or a classical violinist perform in a ping pong club. Expand possibilities. That’s what our program Music-versity does—it offers transformative life lessons. Kids go into studios with artists like Swizz Beatz for workshops in beat production or choir, have a jam session with Ok Go, perform at Carnegie Hall, Apollo Theater or the red carpet of the Annie premiere, go backstage at the Grammys, or learn about the music industry from executives at Google or Spotify. And the artists and industry professionals don’t just write an impersonal check, they donate their time, energy, and passion and change lives.”
- 1 +1 = Start Small but Dream Big: Find your passion and ignite your network for the greater good to make a difference. That’s how change starts. Music Unites started with one donation to a music charity then a three-year financial commitment to a choir and now has grown into Music Unites. One small action can resonate far into the future. My next dream and fundraising target for Music Unites? March is Music Education Month and Music Unites hopes to partner with the Compton Unified School district for Music Unites Day—a day devoted to bringing music and arts education, leadership, mentorship, and entrepreneurship back to three district schools. The program will include motivational speakers, performers, and special gifts for students at each campus, and Music Unites will commit to purchasing instrument and funding after-school programs. How can you help us achieve this goal? Do one thing: donations! Do one more thing: donate musical instruments, audio equipment, event space, and event products. Do one more thing: share your passion and talents and volunteer for our events, day-to-day operations, and special projects, or join our team as a lecturer, music teacher, or artist. Start with your passion and find your purpose and then do your one first thing.”