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VH1 Save the Music Foundation Impacts School Music Programs Nationwide Through Large Scale Instrument Donations

The VH1 Save The Music Foundation in partnership with Grammy nominated singer Charlie Puth, and Casio America announced the 2016 winners of Keys + Kids, a competitive grant program created in response to the lack of functional pianos in public schools.

The 18 winning schools will receive a piano grant valued at $10,000 of instruments, including a Casio Grand Hybrid piano and three keyboards to support their school’s music, drama, and community programs. The pianos will be delivered to the winning schools by VH1 Save The Music celebrity ambassador Charlie Puth this fall.

Henry Donohue, Executive Director of VH1’s Save The Music Foundation, sat down with Dr. Berger to discuss the impact of musical instrument donations to our nation’s schools and students. For the past 20 years, VH1’s Save The Music Foundation has donated over $50 million in instruments, virtually saving music programs as it enriches the lives of students. Henry adds his insight into past DIY musicians and the changes technology inspired. On a side note: Punk Rock is finally given the much-needed attention it deserves.


Dr. Berger: Henry, a lot of people are looking at music education, and assume it’s simply happening in schools across the US. Others simply don’t have enough information to form an opinion, other than, the arts seems to be at the end of the resource line in public education.

Tell us about VH1 Save the Music Foundation and how it’s helping to shrink the gap, allowing more kids in public education to have access?

Henry Donohue: Right. Thanks. VH1 Save the Music has been around for about 20 years. with our primary mission being; give kids in America access to music education during their school day with the ability to learn to play an instrument. The discipline, the teamwork, the creativity that goes into learning to play an instrument and then playing it in an ensemble has so many long-lasting benefits. Evidence and research back up the benefits in terms of school achievement, the probability of going to college, work and civic life.

80% of schools in the US have instrumental music education, but the 20% without it are in places where they need it the most. There are urban and rural schools districts where music and arts really bring life/soul back to the school in such a way that improves attendance, achievement on tests, and parental engagement.

We’ve been around about 20 years, we’ve given away about $50 million worth of musical instruments to school districts during that time –Snip20160727_6

DB: That’s incredible.

HD: – to about 2,000 schools, but we still have a long way to go…to this big idea that every kid in America should have this access.

DB: Tell us about this year, how many award winners have there been with the Grant Program and what has been the national response?

HD: Oh, thanks for asking. We have 2 main programs; one is our “core music program”, where we partner with school districts. The school districts agree to fund a full-time teaching position to teach music during the school day. After the district steps up with that commitment, we come in with all the instruments you would need for a band or strings program. We’re going to do roughly 40 programs this year across roughly 15 school districts. In a lot of places, we’re completing years of rebuild. In Trenton, New Jersey, for example, we’ve granted all 17 elementary and middle schools, so essentially, we’re completing the rebuild of music in Trenton this year.

The other main program is Keys + Kids. The Keys + Kids Program is a piano grant and we partner with Casio to provide a very high-quality digital piano that looks and sounds just like an acoustic piano. We had close to 100 applications for that grant. Any school in the US is eligible and we love those grants because the piano is the center of music in the school, whether it’s chorus, musical theater or general music. Having a really high-quality piano in the school makes a ton of difference. Many times, if we’re starting a relationship with a school or a community, it starts with the piano grant.

We’re going to make about 18 grants. We had a terrific response this year from an application standpoint. We’re finalizing the schools that are getting those grants and we’ve been thankful to have Charlie Puth, the artist, as a partner. Charlie is going to be participating in the big unveiling and awarding of the pianos this fall.

If you are someone who would rather listen…click play. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the interview below!

DB: That’s great. We want to remind everybody that this interview is brought to you by Soundtrap, a Google of education partner, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom.

Henry, I’m always interested in learning how adults have experienced things in their lives that impact what they’re doing now. Tell me about how music has impacted you especially when you were a youth? You mentioned you’re a lover of punk rock bands if I’m correct. (laugh)

HD: I am, that’s true. (laugh)

DB: I don’t hear that everyday. I’d love to hear how it’s impacted you because your resume is very extensive. You could have done a number of things but you’ve dedicated yourself to support this and work with VH1 to bring music into schools. So tell us a little bit about that path and the role music has played in your life?

HD: Sure. I started out as a trumpet player and I remember a day they did a concert in my elementary school. There was a kid who was a neighbor of mine but (a couple of years older) who came in and played the trumpet, accompanied by another kid from the neighborhood on drums. I remember thinking that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. So, in fourth grade, I started on the path of learning trumpet. I played in middle school and high school concert bands, jazz bands and at one time thought I was going to be the next Wynton Marsalis. I love Miles Davis, I love Marsalis.

My band teacher in high school was actually a big fan of Doc Severinsen. Do you remember?

DB: Yeah. (laugh)

HD: (laugh) You’re older…but Doc was a heck of a trumpet player. I was very, very serious about the trumpet for a while. In 10th grade, I picked up the guitar as well and then to be completely keen about it, I noticed that girls had a very different reaction when I told them I played the guitar versus when I told I played the trumpet (laugh). I was in a few bands in high school. I grew up in Washington, D.C. area, which was the center during the 1980s, of a very inspirational politically oriented Punk Rock scene. Bands like Minor Threat, Fugazi, and the whole Dischord Records scene.

So it wasn’t uncommon for you to go to a Punk Rock show in D.C. in the 80s. And then after the show was over, everyone would go to the South African embassy to demonstrate against apartheid. It was very inspiring, a very do-it-yourself politically active punk rock scene. Those bands inspired me, so I started my own. I used to have bands in high school and college. When I came out of college, I started my own record label, plus played in a band that gigged in a lot of the same clubs in D.C. that I had seen bands previously.

The music and the creative aspect inspired me. Plus, the fact that girls reacted differently to the guitar than the trumpet played a role (laugh). I was also very, very inspired by the do-it-yourself idea. You could have your own band, you could have your own fan scene, you could have your own record label. There was a really supportive peer community of people all over the country around the Punk Rock, DIY and Indie Rock ideal.

DB: Henry, how do you think technology has changed? I think when you and I were growing up if you weren’t musically inclined to start, or you at least didn’t think you were, it was a barrier to entry. But now it seems with technology and social media, everybody has some role they can play in the “band itself”, to use that analogy.

HD: Well, I think the bar in punk rock was always lower in terms of musical virtuosity. I think technology has clearly changed things. We now make all our demos and record everything in GarageBand or Protools. So you can buy a nice microphone and you can hook it up to your MacBook and record yourself much easier than it was in the past. Distributing your music is much easier than before. When I had my record label that was always the biggest obstacle. So much time was spent tracking down distributors or hoofing product around different record stores, and putting your records on consignment.

Now with Bandcamp or Spotify, or similar platforms, you can be distributed worldwide, by using the Internet. I think it has made everybody an Indie Rocker. The DIY aesthetic that once required a fair amount of know-how (such as recording on vinyl, or pressing vinyl) has been simplified. Everybody is more like an Indie Rock band. Everybody is their own franchise, they have their own little business, they have to tour, and they have to sell merchandise.

Overall, it’s been very democratizing and liberating. I think its technology that makes people create music, record music, distribute music, it makes everybody an Indie Rocker.

DB: I love that.

HD: Versus 20, 25 years ago.

DB: Let’s close with this, Henry. When you shut it down at night, what puts a smile on your face when you think about giving back? I think a lot of people can give back in different ways, right? People can write checks, they can give support, they can do all sorts of different things, but there’s something about the mission that I find compelling from the human side. What is it like for you when you close your day and say, “This has been the right path for me personally and this is why”?

HD: I go home every day and I can’t believe that this is my job. It’s incredibly gratifying, even though I’ve worked in other social impact spaces or issue areas before. Nothing has had the same direct impact of music.

Like I mentioned earlier, we were in Trenton 2 weeks ago, for every elementary and middle school program. We saw a concert with 12 bands and string sections, some of which were better than others, (laugh), but remarkable considering they only had the instruments a couple of years. We saw the joy, creativity, and expression that kids have as part of their school experience and part of their school day. Almost every one of those 325 kids had an instrument in their hands because of our program. It’s been incredibly rewarding.

I go to school concerts almost every other week, and I always tell the kids my standard line, “instruments don’t play themselves.” We provide a very basic element that makes this thing happen, but then to see what the kids add to it, and see what the teachers add to it., it’s incredible. We work with incredibly inspiring teachers, principals, music and arts superintendents and all of those things come together to make it happen. And when it does, it’s incredibly inspiring.

DB: Well, to say, “social impact”, is an understatement. I think what you and VH1 are doing with the Save the Music Foundation is incredible and is very much needed in US schools and across the world. It’s fantastic what you’re doing and it’s nice to be able to share in the conversation about it. Plus, to learn a little bit more about Punk Rock in D.C. (laugh)

HD: (laugh) They’re still is an active scene. I’d encourage people to check it out.

DB: We want to thank our sponsors of this interview, Soundtrap, a Google for education partner, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom.

Henry comes to VH1 Save The Music Foundation from Purpose, a digital strategic and creative agency that focuses on social impact projects. As COO and Head of Partnerships, he oversaw Purpose’s business development, marketing, finance and operations. Notable client projects he oversaw included branding and launch content for Everytown for Gun Safety (Bloomberg Philanthropies), the social media activation “My Big Gay Illegal Wedding” (ACLU), the #climatechangeisreal social media campaign, and a global campaigning technology platform for Oxfam International.

Before joining Purpose, Henry worked as a media executive focused on digital product development, M&A and financial operations, most notably as the CEO and Publisher of Discover Magazine. He has also held senior executive positions at Condé Nast, PRIMEDIA and LendingTree.com.

Henry spent most of the 1990s on the road across the USA as a political fundraiser for candidates including U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Ron Wyden. At the same time, he was played guitar in a D.C.-based indie rock band and ran a small independent record label.

Henry graduated from Harvard College with a degree in American History. He has an MBA from the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is a native of Washington, DC and is an avid supporter of both the city’s professional basketball franchise and its punk rock bands.

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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