And the Winners Are…. The PlayUSA 2019-20 Grants from Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall

Mike Lawson • Features • August 2, 2019

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PlayUSA announced its grant recipients for this next school year, 2019-20, on July 16. Seventeen recipients were named, including five first-time grant partners.

The seventeen recipients spanned the country, including programs in Hawaii, Alaska, and all corners of the country, from California to Alabama to Rhode Island. All together, a total of fifteen states are involved.

PlayUSA is an outreach of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. It supports groups that offer instrumental music education programs to low-income or underserved K-12 students. This year approximately $500,000 in grant funds will be awarded to these selected innovative partner organizations. These organizations will also gain access to the Carnegie Hall professional staff, professional development for teachers and arts administrators, online access to various professional resources and webinars, as well as participation in sharing sessions to learn from each other’s best practices. The basis of PlayUSA is the common language of music.

The path to a grant begins in February with the availability of the PlayUSA Eligibility forms. After the deadline of March 15, over 80 of these forms are reviewed to select the finalists. A full set of application forms is sent to these finalists on April 16 with a submission deadline of May 15. About ten finalists submitted their forms package this year. In the current year, 2018-19, partners also submit their forms packages along with these finalists. The announcement of the PlayUSA Partners is generally in late June or July.

The specific application dates for next year have not been announced but should be somewhat similar. The PlayUSA website is

Being awarded their first PlayUSA grants this year are the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Empire State Youth Orchestra, Hawaii Youth Symphony, Juneau Alaska Music Makers, and the Trenton Music Makers. These represent a wide-ranging group: geographically, genre, program lifespan, participant demographics and particularly the services offered and method of delivery. First year recipients receive one year of funding, whereas returning partners receive two years. In addition to geographic diversity, these recipients offer a wide range of services and delivery methods to their participants. Some of these offerings are described below.

The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) began in 2004 by co-founders Orbert Davis and Mark Ingram. “Jazz Philharmonic” subtly bridges the musical expressions of both jazz and classical works. One of CJP’s programs, Jazz Alive, is focused on introducing music to the kindergarten through elementary public schools with in-school (resident) classes. The mission is both to ultimately “improve the quality of Chicago Public High School bands and music programs but, even more importantly, to demonstrate that involvement in music programs keeps our students focused and in school!” offered Davis.

Jazz Alive accomplishes these goals by programs of music instruction and enrichment that follow a student for their entire formal education, from kindergarten through high school. This includes basic music theory, improvisation, and emphasizing communication skills, teamwork and self-motivation. These in-school residency courses include basic music discovery for grades K-5, ensembles from K-12, and a jazz band provides an opportunity for participating students in grades 9-12 to become aides to the program. PlayUSA will focus on the Jazz Alive programs.

Located in Schenectady, New York, the Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) serves more than 600 youth across what is described as the New York Capital Region and also portions of Western New England. Utilizing this large population of talent allows a number of formats to be offered. The flagship is their symphony orchestra of primarily high school musicians.

This unit tours internationally every four years with a summer 2020 trip set to Argentina and Uruguay. ESYO approaches their offerings with a tiered structure that utilizes age, grade level and musical capability to bring students up to the symphony level. These feeder groups are further organized by orchestra section structure. String, wind and percussion are all separately addressed. In addition, an entire jazz structure is also supported. In 2015 ESYO launched a new program, CHIME, in partnership with the Schenectady City School System to provide music education for economically challenged students. CHIME, Creating

Harmony Invigorating Music Education, is designed to provide access to arts education and musical excellence. CHIME grew from 30 students at one school site to over 100 at three sites. A fourth site will come online in 2020. The PlayUSA grant will focus on this CHIME program.

The Hawaii Youth Symphony (HYS) was selected on their first application to PlayUSA. While there may be many similarities across the recipient partner community, HYS has a few unique challenges. Based in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, there are student participants that must travel from the other islands that make up this state. Some students have a six-hour trip just to attend. Financial assistance makes this possible.

Many of Hawaii’s elementary schools do not have any arts or music programs. Music in the Clubhouse is a program partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii. This collaboration provides the sites for an introductory class, Music4Kids, that teaches kids to sing, play and read music. One semester also teaches basic ukulele. Another class, the Clubhouse Band, offers beginners instrument instruction on clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet or trombone.

The Clubhouse programs are the focus of this PlayUSA grant. Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) is another new, first year PlayUSA grant recipient. The focus of this PlayUSA grant will be on building an organizational infrastructure for the future. Currently JAMM provides tuition free programs both in-school and after-school at three elementary schools of the Juneau School District. Nearly 500 students are currently being served. Beginning violin is provided to kindergarten and first graders. A unique method pairs each music teacher with a certified classroom teacher. This collaboration provides cross-training and integrates the music methods with the overall classroom experience.

Trenton Music Makers’ executive director, Carol Chickering Burden, described to SBO the various forms of community programs, partnerships and methods of delivery in their operation. She also explained how this 20-year-old organization has continued to evolve and reshape itself to better serve the Greater Trenton area. Among their innovative offerings are Music for the Very Young which includes an intergeneration experience that brings together pre-school three- and four-year-olds’ classes with nearby senior centers for music lessons and dance. Three such partnerships are currently facilitated by Trenton Music Makers. Another program, the Trenton Music for the Deaf, may be a unique offering.

Among the Trenton Music Makers newest programs is their orchestra. Started in 2016, it is the focus of their PlayUSA grant. Taking a page from the El Sistema playbook, this orchestra includes students from second grade through high school. Classes meet in multiple public-school sites and include a pre-orchestra for second graders, ensembles for third through fifth and sixth through eighth graders, with a string sectional for high school students. Students receive an instrument for their use in rehearsal, performance and practice both in class and at home. Underlying these classes that teach music reading, improvisation and musicianship are the development of collaboration skills, peer leadership and team solutions.

Decades ago an American mission team was visiting a small remote village in Haiti. One of the mission group was carrying his four-year-old grand-daughter. The child was hot and tired after a long day traveling on back-country roads and was becoming cranky. Her grandfather began to softly sing “Jesus loves me…” to calm and sooth the child. The local children perked up and quietly joined in, singing in their native Creole. Music was their common language.

Today while governments, diplomats, and politicians struggle to even have a dialogue in their native tongue, music is welcoming, accepting and comforting immigrant children from Syria, Somalia, and many other countries to West Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo String Works (BSW) offers services and received some of its 2018-19 support for these programs from PlayUSA, and now has received its second grant in support of this work.

An example of BSW’s work and community impact are told in a story, confirmed by executive director and co-founder Yuki Numata Resnick. “We had stayed after a concert at a Public International School to play for a class of immigrant children. After playing a Brahms piano quartet we asked the children what the music meant to them. A little boy peeked out from hiding under his desk and said, “I think it means ‘I love you so much!’” BSW opened its doors a few months later. This story is just one example of the personal and cultural relationships that are now being facilitated by PlayUSA grants.

As SBO researched this article and interviewed the executive directors of the five new and also the newest returning PlayUSA grantees, we offer some observations to potential PlayUSA future grant applicants. If you are, or working with, a music education based non-profit and are interested in how and whether PlayUSA should be on your grant seeking agenda, review the current and alumnus PlayUSA partners. All have extensive online resources and information. Look specifically at what these PlayUSA partners have in common. What types of efforts are currently drawing PlayUSA attention? Are these growth and expansion of successful programs or newer innovative efforts? Most of the partner programs effect social and cultural change, not just music education for their students. The communities served are diverse and inclusive.

The leadership and management teams bring diverse, passionate methods and style to bear. All already have broad strong support partnerships in place and have demonstrated successful and responsible use of their current supporting grants. The recipients interviewed all commented that they found the PlayUSA staff very helpful with the application process. For many, this was not their first application, but they had received supportive comments and information along with their prior “no grant” notification. And, oh yes, who are the winners? They are the kids and their families all across this country, many who got here at great personal risk, with trust in what their future might be.

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