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Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute Announces More Than $500,000 In Grants To Community Music Education Programs Across The Country For PlayUSA

PUBLIQuartet Named as First Ever PlayUSA Ensemble-in-Residence for the 2021–2022 Season

Reflections on Resilience Season-Long Project for Partner Organizations Examines Artistic Responses to Living History

Growing PlayUSA Network, Now Entering its 7th Year, Committed to Increasing Access to Instrumental Music Instruction for Young People Nationwide

(June 16, 2021, NEW YORK)— Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) today announced the 2021–2022 grant recipients for PlayUSA, a program that supports community partner organizations across the country to help ensure equitable access for instrumental music education programs that serve K–12 students. For its seventh year, Carnegie Hall has selected 19 organizations from across 17 U.S. states for a total of $510,000 in grants. In addition to financial support, the grantees join a nationwide network of innovative organizations committed to providing transformative music education opportunities for youth across the country.

PUBLIQuartet—the innovative chamber ensemble dedicated to playing new string works and supporting emerging composers—will be PlayUSA’s first ever ensemble-in-residence throughout the 2021-2022 season, connecting with the partner organizations for professional development and music-making. Through Reflections on Resilience—in partnership with PUBLIQuartet and inspired by their “Reflections on Beauty,” a musical collage that chronicles the life of Madam C.J. Walker—PlayUSA partners will gather biographical narratives from the young musicians they serve across different areas of the country, and share their artistic responses to living history. Reflections on Resilience asks each partner: how do we best share stories? Who gets to write history?

Through PlayUSA, partner organizations receive consultation with Carnegie Hall staff, professional development for teachers, access to online resources, and monthly webinars. In addition, an annual convening will give partners a chance to come together and learn from each other’s practices. PlayUSA grants may be used to underwrite teaching fees for music instruction, purchase or rental of musical instruments, as well as instrumental repair and other programmatic costs. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, PlayUSA partners have shifted their work to digital platforms, providing essential support and ongoing music-making to serve their local communities.

“With a variety of social needs and issues with voting rights, racial injustice, gender equality, refugee crisis, and hunger/food insecurity, it can all be overwhelming in trying to run a program for a variety of kids and families with different experiences and backgrounds. The conversations, professional development, and resources have been invaluable for us to think about both personally and professionally and how to begin addressing it in thoughtful and hopeful ways through music. PlayUSA keeps the difficult conversations going and keeps us moving forward through all of these circumstances.” –El Sistema Oklahoma


Children participate in PlayUSA with partner organization Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra
(Photo provided courtesy of Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra)


“Over the past seven years, PlayUSA has built a diverse network of thoughtful leaders in the music education field who bring high-quality instruction and music-making to communities across the country,” said Sarah Johnson, Carnegie Hall’s Chief Education Officer and Director of the Hall’s Weill Music Institute. “We are especially proud of the many innovative ways that partners pivoted during the pandemic and went above and beyond to provide musical learning opportunities and support to students nationwide. We look forward to collaborating and learning from one another again this season.”

For more information about PlayUSA, visit carnegiehall.org/PlayUSA.

About the PlayUSA Grantees


Buffalo String Works (Buffalo, New York)

Buffalo String Works (BSW) offers an intensive instrumental music program rooted in developing the human potential of each child through a curriculum focused on cultivating student agency and self-directed learning. Inspired by the El Sistema model, which encourages students to be agents of social change, BSW primarily serves the refugee and immigrant communities in Buffalo, NY. In its seven years, students have come from such countries as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria. Recognizing the significance of music as a universal language, BSW offers a creative outlet for children and their families who are searching for a sense of belonging in their new home.

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (Chicago, Illinois)

Founded in 2004 by Orbert Davis and Mark Ingram as the US’s definitive third-stream orchestra, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) provides rich, accessible, and multicultural music experiences that bridge the gap between jazz and classical music. CJP performs works from jazz and big band standards to classical symphonies while creating a new aesthetic through cross-genre collaborations. CJP also provides access to music education through Jazz Alive, a weekly music education program for Chicago Public School students, and Summer Jazz Academy, a two-week program that immerses students in music theory and practice. Chicago Jazz Philharmonic performances entertain and inspire, and the community-based education programs improve lives from school age through adulthood.

Community MusicWorks (Providence, Rhode Island)

Founded in 1997, Community MusicWorks (CMW) seeks to create cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians. CMW’s model is centered around the teaching, mentoring, program design, and performance activities for its musicians-in-residence, the MusicWorks Collective.

El Sistema Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

El Sistema Oklahoma has grown rapidly into a well-respected, successful, and unique afterschool program that engages more than 200 underserved public school children in the heart of Oklahoma City. El Sistema Oklahoma was founded through a creative partnership by Cathy Busey and Phil Busey, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, and the Wanda Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. The mission of El Sistema Oklahoma is to serve the community by engaging children within an ensemble-based music program so they can share the joy of music making and grow as responsible citizens.

Empire State Youth Orchestra (Schenectady, New York)

Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) is changing the lives of its musicians and the communities in which they live and perform by using music as a catalyst for social change. To further expand its impact, ESYO launched CHIME (Creating Harmony Inspiring Musical Excellence) in 2015. Through free, daily music instruction and mentorship, ESYO CHIME provides young musicians comprehensive support at both the elementary and middle school levels. CHIME places children on the path to musical excellence and cultivates skills needed to succeed in all areas of life, including collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Through CHIME, ESYO hopes to ensure the musicians of tomorrow are as diverse as the communities they seek to inspire.

ESYO challenges more than 600 of the most talented young people from the Capital District of New York and western New England, and from all walks of life to achieve musical excellence through intensive instruction and high-level performance. Through 12 performing ensembles and CHIME, ESYO ignites a lifelong love of music in the youngest members of its communities, breaking boundaries and fostering new connections.

Enriching Lives Through Music (San Rafael, California)

Enriching Lives Through Music (ELM) is a full scholarship, intensive program whose mission is to inspire and empower youth to pursue their dreams through a community dedicated to an immersive music education. ELM provides instrumental, ensemble, and performance opportunities to youth ages 7–18 to develop the social, emotional, and academic skills they need to succeed. An El Sistema–inspired program, ELM commits to their students—who are from the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael, California, a primarily Latinx immigrant community—for their entire childhoods.

Hawaii Youth Symphony (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Established as a non-profit organization in 1964, the Hawaii Youth Symphony (HYS) promotes and celebrates the importance of music study on academic achievement and social-emotional development through its mission to help young people develop to their fullest potential through orchestral music. Its programs serve students from complete beginners through advanced performers, in settings ranging from chamber music to full symphony orchestra, band, and jazz ensembles. HYS aspires to make music a right, not a privilege, and aims to empower children everywhere with the joy, skills, and character that music-making uniquely provides. Each year, the organization serves more than 700 students ages 7–18 from more than 100 schools statewide.

INTEMPO (Stamford, Connecticut)

INTEMPO is a music education and youth development organization that aims to make music education accessible, relevant, and inclusive. Emphasizing multiculturalism, classical music, and instruments that reflect the heritages of Stamford’s diasporic Latinx communities, INTEMPO’s programs break down barriers that keep children from participating in music education, support their musical interests, and reverse negative patterns that hold children back from realizing their potential.

Juneau Alaska Music Matters (Juneau, Alaska)

Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) is an El Sistema–inspired, tuition-free school readiness and enrichment program in Juneau, Alaska that uses music and community partnerships to promote academic success for all students. JAMM directly serves 500 students from a range of backgrounds in three public elementary schools. In the 2019–2020 season, JAMM expanded into a middle school as well. JAMM and its partners—including the Juneau Symphony—are highly committed to underserved students through programming that takes place both during and after school.

Kidznotes (Durham, North Carolina)

Kidznotes seeks to change the lives of youth in the triangle region of East Durham and Southeast Raleigh, through participation in youth orchestras, bands, and choirs, with instruments and classes offered entirely free of charge. The program engages students, pre-K through high school, in an intense, fully integrated, out-of-school musical program that includes instrumental instruction, choir, music theory, general music, orchestra, and band. The classes are taught by teaching artists, professional musicians, and music teachers who are committed to teaching young students.

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (Kalamazoo, Michigan)

In the 2020–2021 season, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (KSO) celebrated a century of service as a cornerstone of the Kalamazoo arts community, performing exciting symphonic music, elevating the careers of Michigan musicians, and contributing to the vibrant educational environment of Kalamazoo. KSO recognizes one of its greatest responsibilities as increasing equity, inclusion, and representation in the art form. In partnership with Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA, KSO will support the continued development of Kalamazoo Kids In Tune, an afterschool orchestra program that creates inclusive and intensive musical learning spaces to welcome students of all identities, and Orchestra Rouh, a sister initiative that uniquely engages young members of our refugee and immigrant communities.

Music for Life (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Music for Life—from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO)—offers young people in New Orleans the opportunity to study music intensively throughout the year in one-on-one and small-group settings with both LPO musicians and peers. Throughout the school year and during a summer session, LPO mentors help students learn music theory, instrument technique, and other ways to connect with music and harness the mental, physical, and creative prowess crucial to healthy youth development.

MYCincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio)

MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati) is a free, daily youth orchestra for children in the Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. Founded on the idea that personal transformation can be achieved by striving for musical excellence, students enrolled in MYCincinnati have the opportunity to study an orchestral instrument and play in an ensemble. MYCincinnati is inspired by El Sistema, Venezuela’s revolutionary youth-orchestra program that uses music as a vehicle for social change. Currently, there are more than 100 students enrolled in MYCincinnati's daily programming. MYCincinnati is open to children living in Price Hill, one of the most racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhoods in Cincinnati.

Opportunity Music Project (New York, New York)

The mission of Opportunity Music Project (OMP) is to create a community where all children—regardless of economic background—can pursue their passion for music and gain the valuable personal and collaborative skills associated with the rigors of learning an instrument. OMP began in April 2011 with seven students. The program has since grown each year, and now serves a community of 125 students ages 4–18 from all boroughs of New York City as well as New Jersey, offering a full range of educational programming. Of all New York City’s after school music programs, OMP provides the largest number of tuition-free private lessons, along with offering partial scholarships to many families.

Scrollworks Music School (Birmingham, Alabama)

Scrollworks Music School is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to teaching music to the children of Alabama from the greater Birmingham area. The mission of Scrollworks is to make music instruction and ensemble playing available to all, thereby developing character and sense of community. Scrollworks hopes to provide a place for great music teaching to foster a sense of beauty, compassion, appreciation, tolerance, empathy, self-esteem, and respect. Young people of diverse racial, social, cultural, cognitive, and economic backgrounds are encouraged to explore and cultivate their musical talent and contribute to Alabama’s musical culture.

Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra (Seattle, Washington)

Founded in 1942, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra (SYSO) is one of the largest youth orchestra training programs in the US. The organization serves more than 1,800 students each year with five orchestras, two summer festival programs, and extensive partnerships with local public schools. SYSO is committed to ensuring access to high-quality music education to all students through generous financial aid and through capacity-building efforts that strengthen orchestral education in the greater Seattle community.

Soundscapes, Inc. (Newport News, Virginia)

Soundscapes, Inc. instills transformative life skills by providing free, high-quality music instruction, free instruments, and frequent performance opportunities to 350 low-income and underserved students in Newport News, Virginia every year. At the heart of the organization’s success is the strong belief in the power of music to change lives, and the understanding that all children have valuable contributions to make to their community. For Soundscapes, music is a tool to reach children from early elementary school through high school and to help them overcome negative circumstances and achieve their full potential in school and beyond.

Tocando (El Paso, Texas)

Tocando is an afterschool and during-school music program of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. Inspired by Venezuela’s highly successful El Sistema, Tocando (which means “playing”) is designed to engage and empower underserved youth at low-income elementary, intermediate, and middle schools through intensive music instruction while offering cultural, educational, and performance opportunities.

Trenton Music Makers (Trenton, New Jersey)

Trenton Music Makers is a free, high-intensity, El Sistema–inspired string program for students in grades K–12. Young people learn violin, viola, cello, or bass, and play as an orchestra, in addition to studying music theory, choral singing, and bucket drumming. They are empowered to find and use their voice, and to work closely together to cultivate harmony and pursue ambitious goals for their orchestra and their city.


About Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute
Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) creates visionary programs that embody Carnegie Hall’s commitment to music education, playing a central role in fulfilling the Hall’s mission of making great music accessible to as many people as possible. With unparalleled access to the world’s greatest artists, WMI’s programs are designed to inspire audiences of all ages, nurture tomorrow’s musical talent, and harness the power of music to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. An integral part of Carnegie Hall’s concert season, these programs facilitate creative expression, develop musical skills and capacities at all levels, and encourage participants to make lifelong personal connections to music. The Weill Music Institute generates new knowledge through original research and is committed to giving back to its community and the field, sharing an extensive range of online music education resources and program materials for free with teachers, orchestras, arts organizations, and music lovers worldwide.

More than 800,000 people each year engage in WMI’s programs through national and international partnerships, in New York City schools and community settings, and at Carnegie Hall with many more taking part online. This includes more than half a million students and teachers worldwide who participate in WMI’s Link Up music education program for students in grades 3 through 5, made possible through Carnegie Hall partnerships with more than 115 orchestras in the US, as well as internationally in New Zealand, Canada, China, Japan, Kenya, and Spain.

For more information, please visit: carnegiehall.org/Education


Lead support for PlayUSA is provided by the Fund II Foundation.

The Weill Music Institute's programs are made available to a nationwide audience, in part, by an endowment grant from the Citi Foundation.

PUBLIQuartet photo by Lelaine Foster


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