Synchronicity and serendipity are two words that explain the Music Unites project since its inception. I have always believed that there is a time and place for everything, and when I founded Music Unites, I had a vision as to how it would grow and expand over the years. That said, I am truly touched and amazed to see Music Unites brought to life in Los Angeles at Centennial High School in Compton with our orchestra program.
About five years ago, I watched a "60 minutes" segment that featured El Sistema (http://elsistemausa.org/). Learning about El Sistema altered the course of my life by inspiring the inception of Music Unites. I later had a dream about the orchestral movement in Caracas, Venezuela, lead by the true visionary, Jose Abreu. I was inspired so deeply that I believed it was my calling to empower at-risk students through music, by creating unique after-school programs and educational opportunities to teach kids about the behind-the-scenes intricacies of the music business. My goal was to make sure that music was accessible to students across the nation, despite their backgrounds. I believe that music is the one thing that really unites us all, that transcends all borders, and this was something I wanted to bring to life.
Music Unites began in New York City with the Music Unites Youth Choir, which brought students together across the five boroughs. Immediately, I saw students' lives transformed through what we were doing. They were inspired to pursue their passions and develop their talents. Over the past five years, Music Unites has expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles. All along, I kept my initial vision in the back of my head. I knew that when the timing was right, I would work to incorporate an impactful orchestra program -- much like the El Sistema of Venezuela.
In May of 2012, I arrived in Los Angeles on a business trip to speak at a conference. From the get-go nothing seemed to be going right. I missed my flight and landed in LAX early morning. The next morning, I drove to Venice Beach and in less than 10 minutes, I found myself in the middle of a serious nine car pile-up on 10 West. I arrived at the home of my friend Andrew Keegan emotionally distraught. As I was telling him about the last 24 hours, I noticed a book on his coffee table about a mentor Kathy Eldon's son Dan Eldon called, "The Journey is the Destination." Kathy had been a true inspiration for us both, and from there a conversation developed where I revealed my vision of one day creating an expansive orchestra program. I wanted to inspire an entire community and bring together several neighboring schools to hold a large spectacular concert. I further explained to Andrew how I had hoped to one day find that special conductor who could help ignite the movement here in our schools for the students who really needed it. He interrupted me with excitement and shared with me the background on his friend, Maestro Dino Zonic. Before I could say another word, he immediately took me over to Dino's home to introduce me. At the time, I didn't realize that this meeting would change my life forever and bring Music Unites to life here in LA.
Countless emails, conference calls and meetings later, we put together a curriculum for a 6-week Music Unites Summer Orchestra program that would run through the end of July. Despite school being out for the summer, students showed up at school three days a week three hours a day, ready to study music in their orchestra programs. The program concluded with two special concerts open to the community for students and families, both in the school gymnasium and local gospel church. The two events garnered much support from Superintendent Darin Brawley along with Compton's Mayor Aja Brown, who called for a meeting afterwards and ensured that we had their support going forward. This established our long-term Music Unites Academy at Centennial High School.
With the start of the new school year this past fall, we extended our orchestra program into one that takes place on a weekly basis during after-school hours. By next spring, our plan is to create a community-wide orchestra including up to eight other high schools. Our vision: an orchestra consisted of several hundred students and unique performance opportunities across LA where the students can gain exposure and performance experience. We are looking for renowned artists who are interested in performing with our students. Crafting these unique, once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunities, and tailoring top-notch music programs to schools that need it the most is what Music Unites is all about.
Almost a year since that talk with Andrew in front of his coffee table, I still can't believe how things have unfolded for Music Unites. But I'm so thankful and excited to see what else we can do to spread the Music Unites mission to groups of students all over the city. Everything in life really does happen for a reason -- the series of events, the people you meet along this crazy journey we call life... it's the magic of us.
Follow Michelle Edgar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Music_Unites