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Henry Donahue: Helping Communities Reach Their Full Potential through Music

Henry Donahue: Helping Communities Reach Their Full Potential through Music

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on changemaking leaders making the world a more equitable place! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Henry Donahue, executive director at Save The Music Foundation. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Henry! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization?

Henry: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! Save The Music's mission is helping students, schools, and communities reach their full potential through the power of making music. Working with public schools across the US, we donate musical instruments, teacher training, and technology to jump start hundreds of new school music programs each year. We know from 25 years of experience across thousands of schools that music helps young people feel better and do better in school and in life!

Spiffy: That’s music to my ears! What motivates you to tackle this challenge?

Henry: I was helped by school music growing up and want to make sure every student has the same opportunity. I remember the day the middle school band came to my elementary school's multipurpose room to play music and see if anyone wanted to join the band. It blew my mind that you could play music at school! From that day forward, I did every music activity I could find. It motivated me to come to school, helped me find my friend group, and gave me a creative outlet for whatever emotions I was feeling on a given day.

Spiffy: I love to hear how music changed your life in a positive way. How else would you describe the impact of your work?

Henry: When schools have music, the students, school, and community all do better. Students come to school more often and are more involved and engaged with their school. Schools with music and the arts have happier teachers and parents. And school music helps build and energize a music community in a place. More music education means more people making music after school, at home, in church, and in all the other places where music is an important part of people's lives.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative by you or your organization. What impact does that make?

Henry: We recently launched a new program for hip-hop production, songwriting, beat making and audio engineering: the J Dilla Music Technology Grant. Named after the legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla, this program has started programs at over 50 middle and high schools to date, and it's just getting started. Students at J Dilla grantee schools make beats, produce their own tracks, write their own songs, and even DJ school events! The music technology program extends school music education to the frontiers of how popular music and beats are made today.

Spiffy: Very cool! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Henry: I'd like to share a story from one of our students, Jay from LaPlace Elementary School. Jay always wanted to be in band, but, because of the limited resources of his town, thought that he would have to wait until high school. When Save The Music partnered with his school, he was able to learn how to play the saxophone. Now, Jay is a freshman in high school, is co-section leader of the band, and is on the honor roll. He says, "[Learning to play an instrument gave me] rhythm in my life again. It helps me bring out my inner talent.” 

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Henry—it’s been an honor!

Henry Donahue is the executive director of Save The Music Foundation. He previously worked at a digital agency that focused on social impact and as a media executive. He spent the ‘90s as a political fundraiser and an indie guitar player. He has an AB from Harvard and an MBA from the University of Virginia. (First published on the Ladderworks website on April 21, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Lindsey Brannon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.