When kids have access to music, their development thrives.

According to a study by the University of Kansas, students in elementary schools with music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math compared to schools with low-quality music programs.

Yet despite these clear results, music programs are often among the first to go when schools need to make budget cuts.

In Chicago, a nonprofit called Ravinia is stepping up to help.

“We know that music has a huge impact on a child,” says Stephanie Borash, associate director of Ravinia’s corporate and foundation relations. “Music changes lives.”

For that reason, says Rachel Rone, a senior investment associate in the RBC Wealth Management-U.S. Chicago office who serves as a sustaining member on Ravinia’s Associate Board, it’s important to make sure that music is accessible by everyone in the community.

“In Chicago, it’s extremely important because in a lot of the schools we reach out to and support, there isn’t any music education,” she adds.

With the help of partner organizations and donors like RBC Wealth Management, which has supported the nonprofit since 1999, Ravinia aims to provide music education to under-served schools, and connect as many youth as possible with life-changing musical experiences.

‘Why shouldn’t they have access to it?’

Ravinia may be best known for its summer outdoor music festival in Highland Park, Illinois, which started in 1904 and is the oldest outdoor music festival in the country. The festival runs from June through September, and features mostly classical music performances, including a residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The rest of the year, Ravinia hosts classical and jazz performances at an indoor venue for only $10.

But those live performances are just one small part of Ravinia’s overall programming, which has one overarching goal: “All of our programs are focused on advancing the exposure, understanding and performances of classical music,” Borash says.

Ravinia achieves that through its REACH*TEACH*PLAY community initiative, which serves more than 85,000 people each year, according to Borash. The wide-ranging REACH*TEACH*PLAY programs involve connecting with Chicago Public Schools to bring guest artists to classrooms; coordinating with schools that don’t have a regular music education program to establish a classroom residency with guest artists, educators or teachers; providing multiple opportunities for kids to practice playing an instrument or perform on a stage; providing access to concerts; and much more.

No matter the program, the end result is the same: giving kids of all ages a chance to connect with music.

“We want to make sure that we do what we can to get an instrument or an experience into as many children’s hands as possible,” Borash says.


A local family participates in Ravinia’s tuition-free Lawndale Family Music School, which offers classes in a variety of instruments. Photo courtesy of Ravinia

All of the REACH*TEACH*PLAY programs are free for local kids and families, which allows Ravinia to connect with the communities and schools that need its services the most.

“Ravinia isn’t just a one-day-a-week thing,” Rone says. “It really ingrains the music education in the culture of those buildings and the education of those kids.”

Rone, who has served on Ravinia’s board for more than 10 years, was drawn to the organization because of her own experience – she attended a school where music education was only taught one day each week. That, combined with her professional background as an educator, helped Rone recognize the importance of what Ravinia tries to do.

“I knew how these kids felt,” she says. “For some of them, music is the part of the day they like best. So why shouldn’t they have access to it?”

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