Rocking Out For a Better Life

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Music is a beautiful thing, because it’s something everyone can use to influence their own moods.

Think about it–when feeling down there’s always a good pick-me-up song. When feeling hyped, there’s always a rhythm that will fuel that adrenaline.

Astute non-profits take advantage of music’s ability to influence; organizations that use the power of song to spread happiness and bring communities together.

BTR sat down with three such NPOs, each of which brandish music as their weapon of choice to further their respective messages; Healing Using Music (HUM), War Child , and Girls Rock! Philly (GRP).

Healing Using Music

Healing Using Music (HUM) is a Canadian-based organization dedicated to creating positivity within communities through music. They offer performances to schools, hospitals, care facilities, and public places for everyone to enjoy. It was started by Executive Director & Co-Founder Steven Ngo in Vancouver and has now spread all across the country.

Ngo tells BTR that the main inspiration for his creation was the joy he felt in his home town during the holidays, when carolers not only walk door-to-door bringing happiness directly to people’s homes, but also spread cheer to places that really need it–like hospitals, orphanages, and hospices.

But instead of that merriment being seasonal, Ngo thought it should be sustained year round.

“What I realized was that after the holidays are over the music kind of dies down. There are not as many communities coming together playing music for these care facilities,” he explains. “A lot of them don’t have as many music events throughout the year and this was kind of where I saw an opportunity for HUM to explore.”

One event HUM loves to put together is a music flash mob, during which a group of volunteers take to seemingly random streets and sing, electrifying the atmosphere around them and bringing anyone in ear shot a healthy little smile.

Photo courtesy of HUM.

Ngo recounts one incident during a music flash mob that especially stood out for him:

They were on the subway when he and the volunteers broke out into what Ngo believes was a Jason Mraz song, which all have a characteristically upbeat melody. As they finished, Ngo noticed a woman listening to them was crying.

“I was a little confused and was like, ‘Oh no! Why are you crying? Did we play something wrong? Did we trigger something?’” he recalls.

The woman explained that she was on the train headed home from the hospital because her brother was in a car crash and had been in a coma for about a week. She told them that nothing had been able to make her smile for days, but that listening to them play that day on the subway had given her the only happy moment that she had felt since the accident.

“It’s very powerful. Something like a small performance or a short song had the ability to inspire and shape this woman’s mood,” Ngo says. “It brings shivers down my spine, because you never know who you’re going to affect.”

HUM’s intended audience is universal, but other similar organizations target specific people who might benefit from music therapy, like Girls Rock! Philly.

Girls Rock! Philly

GRP is a non-profit music and mentoring organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women from the greater Philadelphia area through the power of music. With this tool they give young girls the confidence they need to believe in themselves, trust in their own intelligence, and understand that their voices deserve to be heard.

Created in 2006, GRP first aimed to bringing young girls together through a music-centric summer camp. Since then it has branched into myriad different programs that use music to aid young female empowerment, including one dedicated to adult females.

It’s also part of an unofficial alliance called the “Girls Rock Alliance,” associated with many other music-based organizations that have a female-positive mission. For example, they support Girls Rock! Pittsburgh and Willie Mae in New York City.

Andrea Jacome is the Creative Director of GRP and shares with BTR the amazing accomplishments this non-profit has been able to achieve using music.

“With our format, when you’re picking out a new instrument, when you’re getting new people together to form a song, you’re not only having to practice a skill,” Jacome says, “but you’re also having to practice being vulnerable.”

She recounts a story of one shy girl struggling with dyslexia who joined the program as a vocalist. Through practice and performance, the girl was able to come out of her shell and feel important.

At the end of the year concert where the girls showcase the songs they created, the mother of this girl approached Jacome and exclaimed that she had never seen her daughter so bold and self-assured.

“We see a lot of stories like that,” Jacome explains. “Youths play with really new situations and different abilities and they’re able to make this a really empowering experience.”

She also notes that their volunteer rate is growing rapidly, probably because music there are so many people who enjoy participating in music-centric events.

“When you learn that you can write down your nightmares and insecurities and about who you love that week and all that angst is okay to feel you teach someone that they are a legitimate part of a community,” Ali Zych, a passionate GRP volunteer tells BTR, “and from my perspective, what community can’t benefit from some more badass lady musicians?”

War Child

War Child takes a different route when utilizing music, primarily because they were able to get help from an already strong musical community. This organization has successfully been able to use music as a tool for gaining brand visibility and spreading the knowledge of what they do. For example, in 2000 they held the largest charitable concert in Canadian history, which raised over $500,000.

The company was founded in North America in 1999, with its first base created in Canada back in 2000 and has since grown internationally, gaining the support of elite artists such as Alicia Keys, Pearl Jam, and Sufjan Stevens.

War Child is the only humanitarian agency focusing exclusively on children and families affected by war. They use music and the arts to gain support and create programs that provide access to education, skill training, and legal aid to break the cycle of poverty and violence that plague war-torn communities.

BTR spoke with Barbara Harmer, the Director of Corporate and Community Engagement for War Child.

“Since inception War Child has benefited greatly from the support of the music and entertainment industry,” she says. “We take a long-term view of the challenges of war, working with local partners to invest in sustainable solutions that protect children. Its work is both complex and holistic.”

She explains that without the support of the music industry War Child would not have been able to grow as immensely as it has.

“We actively encourage people here at home to think about aid differently, so that we all can ‘give smarter,’” Harmer stresses, emphasizing that with the support of passionate musicians their non-profit it is able to provide more substantially for victims of war.

“We have achieved great success over the years using music and the arts as a way to help spread the word and get our message out,” she explains. “This kind of brand awareness has a huge impact on our ability to support hundreds of thousands of war-affected children and their families each year.”

However you use music–as a way to put a smile on someone’s face, to provide an outlet for someone who needs one, to gain awareness and support, or to simply put yourself in a better mood–remember that the success of these organizations prove that even a simple jingle can change lives.