Can the world be changed through music? Rachel Phillips Says “Yes!”
Can Rachel Phillips “make the world a better place with musical talents?” She seems to think so; along with her students, her associates and the five schools she partners with to provide musicial education. From New York City and on the way to Washington, DC across the seas to Uganda and Kenya, you can truely see that Music IS Crossing Borders. Read her inspiring inteview and see why she has to delay partnerships, how her organization gets to perform center stage in Washington, DC and how she believes the world can change through music.
She’s not only an entrepreneur, she is a hero.
Music Crossing Borders (MCB) is a 503(c) nonprofit organization based out of New York City that teaches children of all ages and backgrounds about music from cultures around the world using interactive performances. The programs are designed from both an educator’s and a performer’s point of view. In a normal 45 minute concert, children have a difficult time keeping their attention focused. All our programs are designed to be humorous and interactive for the students, keeping them engaged and excited. So, we can perform for 300 or even thousands of students at a time. All the programs are designed so students are actively participating with what they are seeing on stage. MCB operates on both a local and and international level. Locally, this year, we have teamed with 5 schools here in New York City, and we go to each school once a month for five months and bring our programs to them. Internationally, we have teamed with two other nonprofits: Flying Kites Global and Positive Planet and are currently focusing on fundraising to bring our programs to schools and orphanages in both Uganda and Kenya in the fall of 2011.
What inspired you to open a nonprofit organization using music?
The idea came about organically. My cofounder, Charlie Schmid, and I both perform as musicians and we both teach in elementary, middle, and high schools in New York City. We both saw something missing in various aspects of the music education world. Obviously there are lots of budget cuts in public schools nowadays, with the arts often being the first thing to go. We noticed that the schools fortunate enough to have funding for music and arts programs are often not fulfilling the need and want that children have for music. There are lots of general music programs, or programs designed to teach third graders to play Mary Had a Little Lamb on the recorder, but there are not many that teach cultural music to kids, in ways designed around how students learn best-by getting them excited and involved. We teach them in ways where it is not just one fourth grade class having band one period a week, but in a setting where every child in every grade can learn about music from other cultures that they otherwise may not have access to. We decided to use what we know about both performing and about how kids learn best to really catch their attention and engage them in what they are learning. So at the end of a 45 minute session, the kids don’t even realize they have learned about other cultures and history, they just think they had a great time participating and listening to music.
Would you say music is in your blood?
Absolutely. I have been a musician my whole life. I started playing trumpet in 4th grade. I went to Interlochen Arts Academy, a performing arts high school; I have studied up to a master’s degree in both jazz performance and music education. Living as a musician in NYC, there is a lot of hustling to “make it” in the music world. Both Charlie and I wanted to do something bigger with the talent we were given. We still both perform professionally, but we also wanted to make the world a better place with our musical talents, especially for children.
When you see the children, you see this natural passion and enthusiasm when they hear music. They naturally want to get up and dance and sing along. In most music education, there is just a surface education. We wanted something deeper that encourages them and lets them use their enthusiasm. There are countless studies on how music improves academic grades, attendance rates, and behaviors. For us, developing and building upon this concept is very important.
So you find that using music helps children improve in school, overall?
Absolutely. When I walk into a school, it is immediately apparent to me whether they have a strong arts program because there is such a drastic difference in the organization of the school, the behavior of the children, and the discipline from the administration down. It is very clear: schools that put an emphasis on music and arts education have a marked improvement in academics, behavior, and sense of community and values.
What is a typical day like for you?
On performance days, we get to the school an hour before our program and get everything set up/do a sound check with the band. We normally do two back-to-back programs. For instance, first we would do grades 1-3, then another program for grades 4-6. We currently have 5 programs. The first is called “Take a Tour with Us”. We discuss 4 different genres of music. Each subsequent program focuses on one of the four different genres. We have The Blues and Beyond, Jazz, West African Percussion, and the music of Latin American. It’s the same 6 member band, so that the kids get to know us. Each program is scripted and humorous, as well as interactive. For instance, I will start to introduce myself and the drummer will interrupt with a rhythm behind me, then we get into banter about him interrupting me, then we teach the kids about the rhythm.
So each program builds on top of the last, and the kids learn about it without realizing anything?
Exactly. When you watch the videos of the programs, the whole time the kids are dancing in their seats and clapping along. They are coming up with song ideas! The most heartwarming thing is when we leave and are packing up our truck, we hear the kids in the auditorium still clapping along and singing. They often don’t even realize that they just spent the last 45 minutes learning–they were too busy having a blast! But to us, that is the whole point, and the basis of our mission.
Was it hard to start up a nonprofit?
It was a challenge. My degrees and experience were in music, both in education and performance. I didn’t go to business school; I don’t have a business background. To survive in the music business in New York, however, you do have to develop a business sense both to promote yourself and to be organized. In terms of going the nonprofit route, it was just like learning anything new. I read everything I could get my hands on and picked the brains of anyone I could think of! We are still new, only a year and a half in, but we are growing by leaps and bounds, especially this past year. We have had an overwhelming response.
How are you making these partnerships and getting sponsors?
In terms of partnerships with schools, we set our goal at five schools for 2010, and literally filled all the spots in a week and a half! We actually had to tell some of the schools to wait until next year, because we just didn’t have the staff or funding to accommodate all the schools we had interest from. It was very positive to know that when we are ready for ten schools, it’s a done deal. In terms of other nonprofits, we look for other organizations that share similar causes–and not necessarily always in music. Flying Kites runs an orphanage in Kenya and is determined to provide the highest level of education for their students–which, of course, includes the arts–so it seemed like a natural match. We keep an eye out. We look for friends of friends and people, whether in arts or elsewhere, who share the same vision we do.
There are lots of people who want to start businesses, whether for profit or nonprofits, and they have problems finding funding. Where did you find funding to go after your dream?
Funding is a continuous journey. We recently hired a grant writer, so that’s a big step for us. We also do a lot of fundraising. We have our first big fundraising event of the year coming up in March of 2011 at Zanger Hall in NYC’s Upper West Side. We try to gain a lot of awareness, both financially and also for our cause. We try to keep with the music theme, and have lots of bands perform at our events. We have cocktail receptions. We keep to the whole idea of unity: getting musicians and sponsors together to work toward a greater good. The more we can get the word out, the financial end will come.
So if tomorrow you had unlimited funding, what would you do differently?
The biggest thing is the growth potential. Right now, we can only team with 5 schools and take one international trip per year. In the next 10 years, our goal is to be in multiple states, in as many schools as we can provide staff for. In an ideal world, we would currently be in 20 schools in 10 different states, and taking 5 international trips per year. We know these are all things that will come. It just comes in steps until then.
I understand that next year you are attending the International Child Art Foundation’s World Children’s Festival in Washington D.C. Could you tell me a little about that? Are you planning to expand into the D.C. area following this event?
We are very excited about this event. It is basically the Olympics of children’s events. It only happens once every four years and includes musicians and artists coming together to promote the arts for children. It is a weekend event happening in the National Mall, and we have been invited to perform Center Stage! There will be politicians doing the opening ceremony, immediately followed by a MCB performance. We will be performing to promote educating children about different cultures, as well as promoting the upcoming trip to Africa. In our five year plan, we definitely plan to expand into the D.C. area. We are going to focus on areas immediately surrounding New York first, and then expand outward. Our first and foremost goal is to get into as many schools in the New York area as we can, and then expand outward. D.C., Philadelphia, New Jersey are all obvious choices.
Who would you say is your greatest inspiration?
I don’t think I have just one inspiration. I believe in learning from people who have done something similar to what you’re doing. My parents were business owners, so I can always go to them for guidance and advice. My middle school band director was very high up in the Make a Wish foundation-he takes high school and middle school students to Europe every year as part of the Make a Wish Foundation Charity Tour, and he is one of my greatest mentors, both musically and in business. Anyone and everyone who has been there and done that and is willing to share their time and expertise with the world, are the people I respect and admire.
If you could give any one piece of advice to anyone looking to open their own business, whether a for profit or nonprofit business, what would you tell them?
Put your ego aside. It’s easy to always feel like you should know how to do everything. Especially in the day to day logistics of running a nonprofit, it’s easy to forget it’s not about you and the day to day activities. It’s about believing in something and doing something for the world-and that’s bigger than you. It’s about believing in something and finding people who know what to do and asking their advice. Ask every question you can and don’t feel you should already know everything. Put your ego aside and ask for the greater good of your cause.
If you were conducting this interview, are there any other questions you would ask?
The only other thing I would add about MCB’s mission is that we live and operate off of our slogan: “6.8 Billion People, One Language, One World”. The whole theory is that we live in a world of billions upon billions of people who look, act and dress differently. They listen to different types of music and speak different languages. We teach children-and adults!-that we can all come together for a greater good using-crossing the boundaries of culture-through the language of music. We want to bring people together through music. Bob Marley called this concept “One Love.” We refer to that as One World through the language of music.
Connect with Rachel Phillips of Music Crossing Borders
- Website – http://www.musiccrossingborders.org
- Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Music-Crossing-Borders/154622142833?ref=ts
- Twitter – http://twitter.com/MusicCrossingB
- Contact – email@example.com
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