Image: Sara Wong

With the click of a mouse, class is in session, as a goofy Laika stop-motion conductor with a big mustache introduces viewers to a whirlwind tour through the history of jazz, bouncing from snippets of Louis Armstrong blowing a trumpet to Portland’s own Esperanza Spalding playing stand-up bass and crooning. This is Music Workshop, a wholly online program that aims to connect kids, and their overworked, undersupported teachers, with the power of music—for free.

Through her nonprofit Music Workshop, Portlander Amy Richter harnesses the power of technology to lighten the load for strapped educators and bring essential music education back to students around the state and around the world.

Richter had studied music therapy in college, but it wasn’t until becoming a mother (and witnessing the gaps in arts funding and resources while volunteering at her kids’ schools) that she turned her lifelong love of music into a career. After a decade managing big-budget marketing initiatives for Adidas, she founded Music Workshop in 2012 as a way to provide online music education resources for K–8 students and teachers.

Flash-forward seven years, and Music Workshop is now in use in 1,450 schools in 23 countries—including in more than 250 schools in Oregon. The nonprofit currently offers 19 online courses, ranging from instruction on instruments like guitar and piano to guidance on working in the music industry (“We like kids to know that you don’t have to be a rock star to have a career in music,” Richter says).

Richter notes that Music Workshop is not a replacement for classroom education, but it can enhance the classroom experience while taking some of the strain off the educators.
“These teachers are asked to do so much with so little time,” she says. “Our resource is something that will help them deliver this additional component of history and appreciation without having to do added work.”

Says Laurie Meek, a vocal music teacher at an elementary in Happy Valley: “Students really enjoy this program. With our curriculum being over 20 years old, this is a fabulous addition to meet music standards.”

Music Workshop's INSPIRE Bash—the group's annual fundraiser—will be on November 2nd at the Multnomah Athletic Club. 

The 15th Annual Light a Fire Awards

6 p.m., November 21, Oregon Convention Center

 

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