Live Aid, Farm Aid, Live 8, NetAid and Live Earth. Since George Harrison and Ravi Shankar popularized the concept with the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, benefit concerts have become regularly occurring, star-studded events with a formulaic mix of aging rock stars grasping for relevance and world leaders grasping for exposure.
Al Gore or Pink Floyd might show up and entertain us, but vague goals and undefined aid destinations make these affairs feel more like The Tonight Show with donations than charitable events.
We can find examples of musicians actually helping people at the University of Richmond, and not just for free airtime. Three groups of music students will play benefit concerts next week, and though these concerts won't have the words "live" or "aid" in their titles, they will still be great for those looking for a mix of fun and philanthropy.
Dancing Classrooms is a non-profit that works with fifth- through eighth-grade students to "build social awareness, confidence and self-esteem in children through the practice of social dance," according to its website.
Created in 1984 in New York City, the program has since been extended to more than 500 schools in the U.S. and overseas. With an emphasis on friendly and encouraging teaching, students learn various ballrooms dances over 10 weeks at their schools. It has had a chapter in Richmond, Va., since 2012.
The Children's Health Sophomore Scholars in Residence living and learning program has made the expansion of this program its final project. The students have worked to organize a benefit concert for Friday, April 19 in the Gottwald Science Center. Called One Step at a Time, it will feature dance lessons, a silent auction, food and most importantly to this story, performances from two groups of music students.
The bossa nova and swing jazz ensembles, which both include members of the Children's Health SSIR, will play, and I'll be playing with them. The organizers hope to raise $2,000 from tickets, auction and donations to put Dancing Classrooms in another Richmond-area school.
While Children's Health will look to help children just miles from UR, students from the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra will travel to Cartagena, Colombia this year to work with budding musicians.
There nine students will spend a week in October playing with school orchestras and giving one-on-one lessons to Cartagenan children. They will also bring instruments for these eager but ill-equipped students.
To collect donations and instruments for their trip, these students will play a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20 at Church of the Redeemer in Mechanicsville, Va., about 25 minutes away from campus. If you're looking to get rid of that dusty violin or flute from middle-school orchestra class, then conductor Alexander Kordzaia wants to talk to you.
Beethoven said "Music can change the world." Famous musicians looking to help others have often taken this quote too literally with their global, commercial benefit concerts and charities. But changing the world for the better need not be done on an epic scale to make it worthwhile. Richmond music students are making their own small changes, and I think we should lend our support to their efforts.
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