The Coast News Group
Vista-based Sound United launched its Sound Start Foundation on May 1 in Chula Vista. The program is to donate 10,000 instruments to schools across the country by 2020. Courtesy photo

Music roaring back into schools thanks to Sound United, VH1

REGION — Music may be the soundtrack of life, but for the past several years, it has been an afterthought for school districts.

Many districts across the country have slashed or eliminated arts programs, especially during the Great Recession. In California, some districts cut music more than 20 years ago, which is why VH1 and Vista-based Sound United are working to re-establish those programs.

Sound United unveiled its Sound Start foundation on May 1 at Finney Elementary School in Chula Vista. The foundation is dedicated to donate 10,000 instruments to schoolchildren by the 2020 school year, CEO Kevin Duffy said.

“We think that is an injustice, so we started this initiative,” he added. “We want to make sure that musical education is there and effective. Kids are more confident, more self-reliant and they have higher cognitive scores if they can get access to music at an early age.”

VH1, meanwhile, created its own entity 21 years ago — the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which allocates grant money to schools and districts throughout the country. Finney is one such school, as are 80 others to receive grants for the 2017-18 school year. In total, VH1 has connected with more than 2,000 schools, said Henry Donahue, executive director of the VH1 foundation.

Returning music to schools, they said, is and should be an easy decision for schools and districts. The two noted how numerous studies and research have shown students achieve better grades, behavior and are more confident and creative with access to music.

“We know from the superintendent here (Chula Vista), attendance is better, test scores are better and parents are more engaged,” Donahue said.

Sound United creates home and wireless speakers in addition to other products for home entertainment, Duffy said.

Naturally, Duffy and his employees love music and are dedicated to supporting any child who wants to engage with music. He said nearly 5 million students in the U.S. do not have access to an instrument through their school.

To reach the goal of 10,000 instruments, 5 percent of sales from Denon, Deifinitive or Polk products through the Sound United website, will be donated in addition to donations through the Sound Start website.

“Our aspirations for the program are global overall,” Duffy said, noting about half of Sound United’s employees work outside the U.S. “We’ll do some other U.S. states and cities where we have other offices and then we’ll get started on Europe and Asia. I think it’s a global problem and it’s something we can actually help with. I think we can make a difference.”

One danger without music in schools, Donahue said, is students lose the ability to create. He said the challenge is reaching the 20 percent of schools, mostly in urban and rural areas, who have cut the arts from the curriculum.

Donahue said many schools in California cut music 25 to 30 years ago, leaving several generations of students without access to music. But since the launch of the VH1 program, the foundation has reached 2,000 schools and millions of students.

This year, VH1 added 80 schools in 31 communities nationwide to its growing list.

“There’s nobody who thinks that music education is not important,” Donahue said. “This is really something we all should be focused on.”

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