Phoenix-based music charity group eyes expansion to Milwaukee

If you or your kids learned to play in instrument in school, you already know the value of music education. But with budget cuts looming across Milwaukee and Wisconsin, it’s not impossible to envision a time when schools no longer teach children how to play.

Wisconsin is hardly the only state facing potential cuts, but halfway across the country in Arizona, one entrepreneur is doing something about it. With Arizona ranking 49th out the 50 states in per pupil educational funding, Nate Anderson launched Ear Candy, an organization that gets instruments in kids’ hands and music in their souls.

It’s working in Phoenix, so Anderson Ear Candy is looking to expand — and Milwaukee is near the top of its list.

The charity is already gaining traction in the Phoenix area, and through donations of both instruments and money, it has already impacted more than 11,000 students. Anderson works with local fire stations as instrument drop off spots and local universities for outside-the-classroom field trips and holistic music programming.

“We place these instruments at schools that already have music programs but need instruments and can’t afford to rent or purchase them,” says the Ohio-born Anderson, who notably, is neither a parent nor a musician.

“We track every one, completing the journey of the instrument, letting the donor know where the instrument is making an impact in the community,” says Anderson.

Anderson has also secured the Moody Blues as a partner, and when the iconic British band tours this summer, he will test out the four-year-old Ear Candy model in new locations, including Milwaukee. The band plays the Riverside Theater on June 12.

“This model that we’ve built out here is completely user-driven and sustainable. The only way that it’s successful is if the community wants to be involved. We can be replicating this in any other city, and we did a test in Minneapolis last year. In a week, we got enough instruments to impact 300 youths in that area.”

Anderson says the Moody Blues will help Ear Candy in conjunction with 12 of its shows this summer, and Milwaukee is a prime location.

So, how can you help?

“When the Moody Blues come to town and we do a week-long instrument drive, get involved. If we see a bunch of instruments donated, there’s no reason we can’t get the necessary funds to unfold an Ear Candy branch in Milwaukee.”

For now, Ear Candy can’t afford to hire teachers in schools that don’t have music programs in place, but the group does partner for after-school music programming. “For the programs that are still alive, the biggest issue is instruments. The other half of the conversation is that we need teachers. Schools are watering down music access.”

Anderson says that most of the students that Ear Candy helped last year come from low-income families, and they’re wondering more about where their next meal will come from than about how to rent a saxophone, but that doesn’t make his mission any less important.

“This is an issue that hits home with every community, and it unites us all,” says Anderson. “I don’t want to live in a world without music education.”

Beyond donations, Anderson is self-funding Ear Candy, and admits that it will need a shot in the arm the continue.

To help bring Ear Candy to Milwaukee, Anderson suggests you get in touch with him through his Web site,

“It takes a good amount of funds to really fuel this, but at the same time, the R.O.I. that we’re delivering is pretty incredible. There’s an annual compounding effect on placing instruments. There’s a new group of fifth graders every year — and every year, those instruments are impacting another 30 kids.

“It’s pretty incredible to know that doing it right the first year can have multiple years of impact.”

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