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Musicians For Hope Strikes a Chord in the Chicago Area

MFH members playing their concert. (MFH website)

Since its incorporation in February, the student-run, non-profit organization Musicians for Hope has raised $27,300 for music programs at ten underfunded elementary and middle schools in the Chicagoland area.

The Musicians for Hope Organization was founded by accomplished pianist and LFHS junior, Matthew Hahn. Hahn co-founded the group with musicians Jan Vargas-Nedvetsky and Simon Updegraff, two of his peers from the Music Institute of Chicago Academy.

The group’s mission is to raise awareness and money for the music programs of underfunded area schools.

The Musicians for Hope website includes a statement from the founders, ”We believe in the power of music to inspire, uplift, and transform lives. Through firsthand experience as musicians, we understand the value of music education.”

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In February, Musicians for Hope performed their first fundraising concert at the Nicholson Concert Hall in Evanston, where they played Brahms, Beethoven, and a wide range of repertoire.

The goal of this concert was to raise funds for the John Lewis Middle School music program. The concert was a success and the group raised over $14,000, which funded the purchase of musical materials, instruments, and related essentials for students at John Lewis.

“The school was really in need of the funding,” said Hahn. We were able to have a deep impact on their music program.”

Angela Kucharski, head of the John Lewis Middle School Music Program, brought musicians from the school’s Jazz Ensemble to speak at the concert on why music is so meaningful to them.

“Musicians for Hope has greatly improved the daily life of our music students. Now, we are able to provide instrument necessities such as reeds and strings for students who might not be able to afford them,” said Kucharski. “I notice a greater sense of pride since getting the new equipment for our room. I gather that our students feel noticed, recognized, and important.”

Hahn along with Vargas-Nedvetsky, Updegraff, and Edie Park personally delivered the instrument materials to the students and staff of the John Lewis Music Program.

“It was very inspiring to see the kids, they seemed really happy,” said Hahn. “To see the impact we’re having is great.”

Not only has Musicians for Hope helped improve the musical opportunities for students, but their involvement has helped to foster a musical culture and commitment among members of the John Lewis Music program.

“It has really given the students a sense of community and belonging,” said Kucharski. “Their continual commitment to our program has been amazing and we cannot thank them enough”

In April, Musicians for Hope collaborated with esteemed Chicago-based classical music station WFMT to raise additional funding for underfunded music programs.

Musicians for Hope conducted a matching challenge during the WFMT Spring Membership Drive, where listeners were invited to donate to the station. Musicians for Hope matched donations raised dollar for dollar.

Musicians for Hope raised $9,600 through the matching challenge and used the money to offer eight impoverished schools in the Chicagoland area their choice of online music subscription resources, instrument sets, and complete audio sets of classical music.

“We are proud to have successfully raised awareness for underfunded music programs in schools, particularly those in underprivileged communities,” said Musicians for Hope board member Michelle Lee.

The Musicians for Hope’s most recent fundraising concert was held at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in May. This concert featured ensembles, piano trios, and quartets from the Music Institute of Chicago, as well as solo performers. Through these efforts, MFH raised over $4,000 for the Henry Lloyd School in Chicago, and donations are still arriving.

MFH members presenting John Lewis Middle School with a check. (MFH website)

Musicians for Hope is providing local students with access to musical opportunities, allowing them to partake in the uplifting experiences that come with musical expression.

“Many of these students are low income and are under federal aid and music is a form of escape for them during their week,” said Hahn.

In addition to their fund-raising concerts, the group attracted sponsorships from several companies to further supplement their fundraising efforts. Participating sponsors include Potbelly, William Harrison, Foley and Lardner, and Squeezebox Books, whose contributions enabled the purchase of $4,000 worth of instruments for donation to underfunded schools.

Musicians for Hope is continuing their partnership with WFMT through their “Bach to School Program,” and is also considering other potential collaborative opportunities, including a possible collaboration with Save the Music Foundation.

They will also continue planning fundraising concerts and are hoping to perform at the Grant Park Music Festival’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion later this summer.

“Frankly speaking, I am amazed by the rapid growth and the great impact this organization has made in such a short period of time. The dedication and commitment of every MFH staff member is truly amazing,” said Lee. “MFH will continue to grow and meaningfully impact by reaching out to diverse audiences.”

MFH team at a concert. (MFH website)

Not only has Musicians for Hope greatly benefited local music programs through their efforts, but the Musicians for Hope founders and musicians have also found the experience to be deeply personally rewarding.

“It’s a great way to use my talent to make a positive change. The whole process has been very rewarding. I felt particularly proud at our first fundraising concert in February because that was the first time I really saw the impact we were making. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish in the future,” said Edie Park,  Musicians for Hope’s Director of Community Outreach.

Musicians for Hope reveals the power that comes from harnessing one’s passions to create a positive impact. Its members are using their skills not only for the betterment and enrichment of their own lives but for the community at large.

This story was originally published on The Forest Scout on May 12, 2024.