Project Jumpstart

Entrepreneur of the Month

MusAid Organization

Entrepreneur of the Month

MusAid

Supporting music institutions in developing countries around the world, with donated instruments and volunteer teaching programs.

MusAid, a project run by Jacobs School of Music alumnus Kevin Schaffter, current student Maria Romero, and a few friends, has blossomed into a deeply inspiring international organization with a vision of “a global community where artists from any cultural or financial background could be granted the opportunity to share their unique artistic voices with their community.” Current teaching fellows include alumni Hilary Glen and Colleen Wang. Professor Mimi Zweig is one of two 2015 guest faculty members. A recent interview with Project Jumpstart is a must-read for any musician with a desire to develop a musical life that goes beyond the score.

Students! If you're interested to participate in this project as a Teaching Fellow, check out the website for information on how to sign up and be notified of opportunities.


Project Jumpstart: Many thanks for joining us for a conversation about MusAid. What led you to form your organization in 2007?  

MusAid: The impetus to found MusAid arose when Kevin Schaffter was living and studying in Kyrgyzstan and saw the difficulties many musicians face with having access to equipment, instruction, printed music and even performance venues. It was heart-wrenching to witness the dreams and aspirations of musicians crushed by the lack of the most basic materials necessary to pursue their art. He began collecting and distributing instruments to schools in Kyrgyzstan and Burma and after several years felt that the development of a not-for-profit would help formalize the collecting of donations and facilitate growth. MusAid was founded with a vision of a global community where artists from any cultural or financial background could be granted the opportunity to share their unique artistic voices with their community.

MusAid

MusAid visiting CEMUCHCA music school in Haiti

Project Jumpstart: Has your mission changed since then?

MusAid: In the beginning, MusAid only supported schools with donations of material goods (sheet music, strings, reeds, mouthpieces, instruments, etc). Since our founding, the organization has distributed materials to schools in Kyrgyzstan, Burma, Nicaragua, Haiti and Afghanistan. While working with our partner schools overseas, we began hearing that the lack of local teaching expertise was as critical as the need for instruments. To address this issue, we created the MusAid Teaching Fellowship. Initiated in 2013, the Fellowship selects musicians aged 20-35 through a highly competitive application process to teach at partner schools during 12-day workshops.

Watch Three Inspiring Videos!

Video I Video 2 Video 3
Haiti Belize Kyrgyzstan

The Fellows improve the quality and sustainability of local music instruction by sharing pedagogical skills and materials with teachers and advanced students. We also include world-renowned guest faculty at our workshops, who work alongside the Fellows. This year, Jacobs School of Music Professor Mimi Zweig joins our workshop with El Sistema - El Salvador to work with school staff on improving curriculum.

We also include repair technicians at each of our workshops to train local staff on instrument repair and to repair their current stock of instruments, another critical demand from schools. Through our multifaceted approach of providing teacher training, encouraging peer mentoring, training instrument repair technicians, and by donating instruments, we are able to tailor a program of support that meets the specific needs of each of our partner schools.

MusAid

Kevin Schaffter coaches the clarinets of the
National Youth Orchestra of Belize.

Project Jumpstart: As young professional musicians studying at leading conservatories/schools of music in the U.S., how has your work with MusAid changed your view of music in your lives?

MusAid: Being involved with MusAid and seeing first-hand the impact our work has certainly given us perspective on the many benefits music has to offer. Beyond the joy of playing and studying music, we have seen the tremendous potential of music to create a sense of belonging, improve focus, and teach teamwork. We have also seen music schools in parts of the world where gang violence is rampant provide a haven for at-risk youth, and have witnessed how effective music can be as a tool in preventing aggression and violence. As an example, El Sistema - El Salvador, where we are holding our third workshop this year, was created in 2011 by the government to curb youth enrollment in the notoriously dangerous gangs of the country.

Working with MusAid has also personally reinforced the true power and value of having music in our lives; knowing how important the study of music is to a student of limited means in their path to overcome and transcend social limitations is incredibly inspiring.

Mimi Zweig

Mimi Zweig coaches a student at El Sistema, El Salvador
while a MusAid Fellow takes notes

Project Jumpstart: What are the lessons you’ve learned about effective management and development of the project?

MusAid: MusAid has grown a lot over the years and I think one of the most important factors to our success has been how we've expanded our team. It's so important to be able to trust your team members and to know that everyone is working together to achieve the same vision. One thing I think people don't know about MusAid is that it's run by a very small and efficient group that is spread out across North America and three time zones. In fact, the only time we have all been together was last August, when we were all teaching together at a workshop for the National Youth Orchestra of Belize.

To overcome our inability to meet in person, we arrange our weekly meetings on Google Hangouts. The most important feature of our group is a deep trust and commitment that's been crucial to our stability and effectiveness. This year we’re using Asana, a platform that enables us to assign and track all the tasks and duties that need to be completed, all without email. This keeps us informed and up to date throughout the week of what's been accomplished, and what remains to be completed. It's been fantastic!

Avery White

Avery Waite teaching a cello student in El Salvador

Project Jumpstart: Could you describe the most striking challenge you’ve had to overcome as you develop MusAid?

MusAid: It will probably not come as a shock that, as a charity, funding has been our greatest challenge. As an aid organization focused primarily on international projects, MusAid is ineligible for a large number of grants in Canada and USA that are focused on national community development. As a result, we've found it difficult to source funding and have had to learn to be creative, opting instead to hold fundraiser events and concerts, tapping into crowd sourcing, and numerous campaigns online. Currently, MusAid is still entirely volunteer run, though the organization is growing at such a rate that it will require paid staff members soon.

In addition, we have also learned the importance of a discerning selection process for partner music programs, and to join forces with organizations that are honest, reliable, and highly professional. Being a small team that is faced with tremendous and complex logistics, we tend to select partner programs that are communicative and highly organized. We have certainly had to learn this the hard way a few times!

Dana Riveccio

Dana Riveccio training the first generation of woodwind r
epair technicians in El Salvador

Project Jumpstart: If you were to describe the essence of entrepreneurship, how would it relate to your work with MusAid?

MusAid: The essence of entrepreneurship seems to be recognizing a need, and developing the courage, tenacity and creativity to do all you can to develop sustainable solutions. While working with MusAid we have learned to be bold and fearless in our approach and have become very comfortable with taking measurable risks. Occasionally things don't work out as planned, but for the most part we surprise ourselves with how major projects have started by simply having the courage to go for things. Some of our biggest projects have started by simply sending a single email pitching an idea. The more time you spend out of your comfort zone the easier risk-taking becomes. This is especially true once as you realize that making mistakes is often the best way to learn. We have also learned the importance of making as many contacts as possible, as it is impossible to know how connections may pay off in the future. The way our team was assembled is an excellent example of this! Looking back, it’s fascinating to connect the dots, to understand the unexpected ways contacts and events have led to opportunities. "Just Do It" sums up best how we approach our work, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.

MusAid

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music with donated
instruments and supplies from MusAid

Project Jumpstart: Since many of those reading this article are young talented musicians, what advice would you offer as they consider a professional life in music?

MusAid: Working with MusAid is a constant reminder to never forget the simple joy of music making and to remember how very fortunate we all are to have music in our lives. It's very easy to get caught up in the intricacies and technicalities of music making at a high level and to be discouraged by the very real and caustic nature of the business behind orchestras. Keeping perspective on the intrinsic value of music to society and humanity is crucial. Music has so much to offer the world and there are endless ways to harness that potential outside the orchestral track that so many musicians get caught in while at school. Look for the bold ways that music can be a part of your life and the lives of others!

MusAid

2014 MusAid Belize fellows before snorkeling at
beautiful Caye Caulker during a day off


Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.