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PlayUSA

Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA supports community partner organizations across the country that offer equitable instrumental music education programs to K–12 students, including those whose opportunities to engage in instrumental music instruction are limited by socioeconomic, geographic, or other factors. These organizations receive funding, as well as training and professional development for teachers and arts administrators, in addition to guidance from Carnegie Hall staff to help address challenges and build on best practices.

PlayUSA provides up to $500,000 in grants each year. Organizations may apply for a one-year grant. After the conclusion of the first year of funding, they may apply every two years for additional grant renewal. Grants are between $25,000–$35,000 per year. Once the grant period has ended, organizations are invited to be alumni partners, who still can access professional development resources without grant funding.

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The primary objectives of PlayUSA grants and support are to

  • reduce the barriers to entry in music learning and performance for students from economically under-resourced communities
  • make a transformative investment in the creativity and human development of students
  • engage in partnerships with grantees that increase the organizational capacity, effectiveness, and impact of socially responsive instrumental instruction

Grant Criteria

In order to apply to be a part of Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA, an organization must
  • provide equitable instrumental instruction to K–12 students
  • reduce the barriers to entry in music learning and performance for K–12 students by providing no-cost instruction
  • provide sustained high-quality music instruction in private, small group, or ensemble settings to a diverse pool of students
  • provide instruments to young people by subsidizing instrument rental, purchase, and repair
  • demonstrate interest in joining a national network of community-based music programs to discuss best teaching practices and engage in yearlong professional development

PlayUSA partnership includes

  • financial support for new or expanded programmatic work
  • program development consultation in working with partners to solve problems, address challenges, and build on best practices in the field
  • professional development both online and in-person for music educators to support delivery of exceptional programs

Application Timeline

Eligibility Form Available: December 4, 2020
Eligibility Form Deadline: January 13, 2021
Full Application Available: February 5, 2021
Full Application Deadline: March 29, 2021
2021–2022 Partners Announcement: June 4, 2021

2020–2021 Partners

2020–2021 Partners

A smiling young girl

Buffalo String Works (Buffalo, New York)

Buffalo String Works (BSW) is an instrumental music program that grows the potential of each child through a curriculum that cultivates student agency and self-directed learning. Primarily serving refugee and immigrant communities with students from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria, it offers a creative outlet for children and families searching for a sense of belonging in their new home.

A boy holding a violin laughing

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (Chicago, Illinois)

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) provides rich, accessible, and multicultural music experiences that bridge the gap between jazz and classical music. CJP also provides access to music education through Jazz Alive, a weekly program for Chicago Public School students, and Summer Jazz Academy, a two-week immersive program including music theory and practice.

A young girl plays cello

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.

A smiling young girl holding a viola

El Sistema Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

El Sistema Oklahoma is a respected and successful afterschool program with more than 200 underserved public school children. 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, it serves the community by engaging children with an ensemble-based music program so they can share the joy of music and grow as responsible citizens.

Two girls perform on violin

Empire State Youth Orchestra (Schenectady, New York)

Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) challenges more than 600 of the most talented young locals from all walks of life to achieve musical excellence through intensive instruction and high-level performance. With 12 performing ensembles and CHIME, its elementary and middle school program, ESYO ignites a lifelong love of music in the youngest members of its communities, breaking boundaries and fostering new connections.

Two boys with violin cases laughing

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 students to pursue their dreams through a community dedicated to an immersive music education. ELM provides instrumental, ensemble, and performance opportunities to young people from a primarily Latinx immigrant community to develop the social, emotional, and academic skills they need to succeed.

A smiling teacher helps a young boy play violin

Hawaii Youth Symphony (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Hawaii Youth Symphony (HYS) celebrates the importance of music study for academic achievement and social-emotional development through its mission of helping young people develop their fullest potential through orchestral music. Its programs serve more than 700 students ages 7–18 from more than 100 schools annually, in settings ranging from chamber music to full symphony orchestra, band, and jazz ensembles.

A smiling young boy

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 Stamford’s 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.

A boy plays cello

Juneau Alaska Music Matters (Juneau, Alaska)

Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) is a tuition-free school-readiness and enrichment program that uses music and community partnerships to promote academic success for all students. Serving 500 students from a range of backgrounds in three public elementary schools and one middle school, JAMM and its partners—including the Juneau Symphony—support underserved students with programs that take place both during and after school.

Two boys play violin

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (Kalamazoo, Michigan)

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (KSO) is a cornerstone of its arts community, performing exciting symphonic music, elevating Michigan musicians, and contributing to a vibrant educational environment. It supports Kalamazoo Kids In Tune, an afterschool orchestra program that creates inclusive, intensive music learning for all students, and Orchestra Rouh, a sister initiative for young people from refugee and immigrant communities.

A group of boys perform on violin

Kidznotes (Durham, North Carolina)

Kidznotes seeks to change the lives of youth, through participation in youth orchestras, bands, and choirs, with instruments and classes offered entirely free of charge. In classes taught by teaching artists, professional musicians, and music teachers, pre-K through high school students experience a fully integrated, out-of-school program that includes instrumental instruction, choir, music theory, orchestra, and band.

A young boy plays clarinet

Music for Life (New Orleans, Louisiana)

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

A group of kids sit at music stands with their violins

MYCincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio)

MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati) is a free, daily youth orchestra founded on the idea that striving for musical excellence helps students achieve personal transformation. More than 100 students from the city’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods study orchestral instruments and play in ensembles.

Three smiling boys with violins

Opportunity Music Project (New York, New York)

Opportunity Music Project (OMP) aims 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. Serving 125 students ages 4–18 from all boroughs of New York City as well as New Jersey annually, it offers a full range of music education programs.

A group of students perform on cello

Scrollworks (Birmingham, Alabama)

Scrollworks Music School is dedicated to making music instruction and ensemble playing available to all, thereby developing character and sense of community by providing a place for great teachers 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 explore and cultivate their musical talent.

A smiling young boy plays violin

Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra (Seattle, Washington)

Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra (SYSO), one of the largest youth orchestra training programs in the US, serves more than 1,800 students each year with five orchestras, two summer festivals, and partnerships with public schools. SYSO aims to ensure access to high-quality music education for all students through financial aid and capacity-building efforts that strengthen orchestral education in the Seattle community.

Two smiling boys play trumpet

Soundscapes, Inc. (Newport News, Virginia)

Soundscapes 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. For Soundscapes, music is a tool to reach children from early elementary school through high school and to help them overcome challenges and achieve their full potential in school and beyond.

A young boy plucks the strings on his violin

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.

A young girl with her violin

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 voices, and to work together to cultivate harmony and pursue ambitious goals for their orchestra and their city.

Fund II Foundation

Lead support for PlayUSA is provided by 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.

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