Bringing music to underprivileged communities

What started as a simple project to gather more instruments for George Mason University students quickly blossomed into a program that provides instruments and arts enrichment programs to underserved elementary and middle school students in Northern Virginia.

Eight years ago, George Mason’s own music students needed additional instruments. Students were renting instruments and borrowing from friends to pass their academic requirements and gain instrument proficiency.

The solution was the Instruments in the Attic Donation Program, launched in September 2008 by George Mason alumnus John Paul Phaup, MBA ’91, who is a member of the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees.

Housed within the Potomac Arts Academy, the program assesses, repairs and redistributes instruments to schools and members of the community who cannot afford private lessons or do not have access to instruments. To date, the program has collected more than 700 instruments.

The program sends Mason music students to teach underprivileged students and organizes afterschool enrichment programs to connect the instruments with their recipients. It provides Mason music majors with teaching experience as well as the ability to make an impact in the community.  

“The greatest winners are the kids who get an instrument and a teacher,” Phaup said.

With Instruments in the Attic growing and helping both community members and Mason students, six members of the Potomac Arts Academy, Mason’s School of Music and the Mason Foundation’s Board of Trustees visited music and arts schools throughout San Jose, Costa Rica, in May to explore a collaboration between Instruments in the Attic and Mason Study Abroad. The proposed program would deliver the same afterschool education programs and refurbished instruments, but would benefit a new demographic.

“We visited various music schools in and around San Jose and had the opportunity to watch them perform,” said Elizabeth Curtis, director of the Potomac Arts Academy. “The students were playing on cracked instruments with bent bows, but their passion and showmanship shined through.”

Broken instruments are not the only obstacle faced by talented students in San Jose. Many of the teachers placed in the music programs are still students themselves.

“One of our main responsibilities is to help teachers learn to teach,” said Phaup. “The hope of this program would be to not only bring new or repaired instruments to these students, but to allow Mason students to help teachers and students learn how to use them.”

Through this program, the Potomac Arts Academy would help Mason music students gain valuable teaching experience and provide playable instruments to yet another community that would cherish them.