Advocacy Story

“Advocating for the Moral Imperative of Music Education,” has been our tag line since 2015, and we would like to take this opportunity to explain what those words mean as defined by Todd, how the foundation has endeavored to fulfill that mission, how it has evolved to support music programs across the country.

Our advocacy has two main objectives:

  • Highlight the benefits of music education, all through children’s lives, particularly the neurobiological research, which are not widely known.
  • Provide direct aid to music programs by matching their needs with the resources that will make their programs excel

This is more easily said than done. Prior to the formation of the Foundation Todd’s fans orchestrated a service project to support the Youth Orchestra of the Lower Ninth Ward (now Make Music NOLA) in June 2013. The TR fan community paid a visit to the program and presented them with a substantial monetary grant, raised through various means. This event inspired the creation of the foundation, but did not define it.  While Todd, supported the effort, he was not involved in its planning. Because this project was such a wonderful experience for all of us, Todd was asked if he would take the leadership role and determine how to formalize these philanthropic efforts.

While he embraced the concept of doing something, he was leery of just ongoing fundraising efforts for deserving programs, simply raising cash and making monetary grants. At the foundation’s formational meeting attended by Todd Rundgren, Ed Vigdor, and Jean Lachowicz, we felt that the most effective organizations are not “pass through” organizations that collect money and give it away. Nor did Todd feel it was appropriate or sustainable to continue to rely on his fan base for that support. He wanted something more unique, truly systemic, and better able to make a lasting impact on programs. We all agreed that defining how to accomplish that goal would take time and some trial and error. However the first step was taken, letters of incorporation were signed at that October 2013 meeting, creating the Spirit of Harmony Foundation and was recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in June 2014.

From the beginning, we always intended the Foundation to be national in scope and “mortar, not bricks,” as Todd stated when formally announcing the foundation at NAMM in January 2014. We always intended to utilize our network of fans and supporters as a starting point, knowing that that base of support needed to be expanded to meet the needs of the foundation and its efforts to support existing music programs in innovative ways. In April 2014, Todd visited the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory of Northwestern University, where Dr. Nina Kraus presented her research confirming the measurable benefits of music education on brain development. It became clear that music education can level the playing field for kids of all economic and academic levels by changing the way they hear sounds. Todd found his “hook,” fully embracing the science.

From Dr. Nina’s research, we determined that our Foundation would focus on instrument-based music education programs, beginning at the youngest age possible, for a substantial period of time. Because there are tens of thousands of music related programs that need our assistance, we clarified our mission to focus on those elements necessary for a child’s brain to benefit neurologically from music education. The methodology as to how to achieve that was still evolving, one aspect was to help publicize this important research through advocacy.

One of the ways these efforts took shape was the development of the Music Education Advocacy Toolkit, the concept of which was first raised by Todd while at Northwestern. The toolkit pulls together the best and most compelling resources for people in local communities to draw upon to create or re-invigorate local music programs. The academic and social benefits of music education are fairly well known, but the neurological benefits of music education are almost revolutionary, as we now know that music education can undo the “signatures of poverty” that are found in the brains of children who are raised in homes where verbal skills are under developed. The most challenging aspect continues to be the economic development of a child who participates in a music education program. Economist George Ford, Ph.D., illustrated the complexity of this during the Foundation’s Symposium on The Moral Imperative of Music Education hosted by the Clinton School of Public Service in April 2015. Additional expert testimony was presented, as well as real life experience from board member Kevin Ellman, and drew international attention. The question that still remained was how the Foundation ought to leverage this information to help real kids in real music programs.

At a Board of Directors meeting in Little Rock the day after the Symposium, we formulated the seeds of an idea to create a way a kind to help music programs access the resources they need to excel. Foundation Vice-President Michele Rundgren introduced the concept of an “easy button,” that a music program with needs can make non-monetary requests for goods/services to which the foundation will try to meet as best we are able. Over a period of about a year, this initiative became “Ensemble,” a program that works something like “E-Harmony” to match programs with resources. Board member Bill Chapman was tasked to develop a database to manage the process and track results. This program requires a tremendous amount of hours to vet qualified programs that meet with our four standards, develop a relationship with the program to look beyond their need for financial support to explore other unique needs they may have, and then go about the business of attempting to fulfill those needs. Ensemble is all about building deep relationships with music programs to assist them in a variety of ways, this program continues to develop and evolve.

Just recently, Todd directed another important evolutionary step for the foundation, being even more focused on advocacy. Todd introduced this focus while at Notre Dame in September 2016, during an Executive Committee meeting and again at a board meeting a few days later. At that board meeting Todd specifically directed that the foundation no longer raise funds just to simply write checks.

An important aspect of the Foundation’s work is to provide opportunities for his fans and supporters to engage in direct service activities. The purpose of these activities is two-fold: not only are we able to provide service to a deserving organization, but we also give his fans and supporters key insights into the issues, challenges, and joys of music education. Whether it’s helping to launch a new music program for children living with their families at a homeless shelter, or whether it’s a used instrument drive, or some other opportunity that presents itself, the social aspects of the Foundation offer hands-on fun. With Todd about to go on tour to support his new album, conversations to create fan-attended events have begun with Michele Rundgren and board members Mark Woodin and Joel Owens.

There are few other charitable organizations that attempt to offer a comprehensive program of public information and direct service in the way that we do. In addition, the requests are ALWAYS far more abundant than the resources we are able to find. In that sense, we are still very much a work in progress, as we determine the most effective methods of accomplishing our mission. We invite you to visit our website because we need your support, we welcome your ideas, and we appreciate every opportunity to answer questions about the Spirit of Harmony Foundation’s important work.


March 2017