- Written by Christian Wissmuller
- Published: 22 January 2014
Few have made the advancement of music making as passionate and personal a mission as the D’Addarios and even fewer can lay claim to such measurable, meaningful impact on the lives of scores upon scores of musicians and music scholars.
Laying the Foundation
“In 1979, we really perfected professional quality classical guitar strings, but we could not get any of the major artists to even test our product,” recalls Jim. “We also saw that the up-and-coming classical guitarists were struggling to break through and make a living. We decided that we needed to reach out to this ‘next’ generation of professional classical guitarists and help them by supporting their careers and providing them with superior sounding strings.”
And so, from relatively humble aspirations, The D’Addario Foundation was born.
“We started dabbling in promoting concerts, first with one in 1979 by Michael Newman at Town Hall and then a full series of four concerts at Merkin Concert Hall. We decided to call the series ‘Debuts and Premieres.’ All the artists were either making their New York debut or were premiering a new work or transcription for the classical guitar. In those days the New York Times had many music critics and we were able to get a Times review for nearly every artist debuting on the series.”
The Foundation expanded greatly over the years, reaching more regions and individuals. “In 1981, it became clear that this strategy was sound and we wanted to broaden our commitment and make it more than just a series in New York City,” Jim explains. “We decided it would be a good time to create a foundation so that we can expand into more cities and also support other programs. The foundation was originally called The D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts. Later we changed it to the D’Addario Music Foundation and now to simply the D’Addario Foundation. For the next 12 years or so, the series expanded to other cities, and we were able to offer a young artist a tour of four to six dates. The program was a big success; we were able to meet and help some of the most influential players of our times, players that are now legends, like Michael Newman, Ben Verdery, David Starobin, The Assads, Raphaella Smits, David Russell, Paco Peña, and many, many more.
“These artists appreciated and still appreciate the support that we gave them and the entire classical guitar community. In 1993, we decided to stop promoting the concerts ourselves and to change our foundation’s mission. We decided to create a grant process where we would support classical guitar events and educational programs, and eventually expanded to include bringing music education to the underprivileged.”
A Mission Evolved
The Concert Series served as a springboard for more avenues of philanthropy, as John Jr. explains: “As the concert series developed a relationship with the world of classical guitar, we began to support various initiatives in this field, particularly with support of the various festivals and competitions. We really pioneered providing financial and in-kind support to many organizations that promoted the art of classical guitar through various activities, such as concerts, competitions, and later educational outreach programs. Even today, as our mission has changed, we still act as a major sponsor in this field.
“Putting aside our commitment to supporting classical guitar, the foundation’s primary mission has evolved over the years as needs have changed throughout the country and the world. Our primary focus now is to identify quality music instruction programs in under-served areas. The great majority of programs we support provide instruction for free. This is very important to us, as we feel that everyone should have the opportunity and access to learning to play an instrument and studying music, and there are many high-quality grassroots programs out there achieving these goals. In particular, we have aligned ourselves with many El Sistema-based programs throughout the country. We believe very strongly in the intense and communal nature of the El Sistema philosophy. It is a deep commitment for children to join these free programs, but what they receive in return is immeasurable. The programs, which are often intense and demanding, leave students with a deep knowledge of music and their instrument, as well as defined senses of capability, endurance, and resilience, having just overcome the program’s great challenges. Many of these programs provide instruction five times a week for two hours at a time, and sometimes practice on Saturdays. In particular, we feel very strongly about our partners, The Community Music Works, KidsZNotes, The People’s Music School, The Harmony Program, the Harmony Project, The Corona Youth Music Project, The Opportunity Music Project, The Youth Orchestra of the Lower 9th Ward, and The Chicago Metamorphosis Project.
“We also have long-standing partnerships with other organizations outside of El Sistema such as Education Through Music, the Sphinx Organization, The Austin Classical Guitar Society, and The National String Project Consortium – the common theme being that the leadership in these programs is incredibly strong.”
A Family Affair
So far from a vanity project with a convenient moniker, the Foundation is a defining aspect of life for the family. “Until 1992, my wife Janet was the director of the Foundation, and I was very actively involved in putting the concerts together with her and our staff,” says Jim. “It was a personal endeavor right down to bringing in the refreshments for the post-concert parties and even putting performing artists up at our home. Now, John’s daughter, Suzanne D’Addario Brouder, is our director and is in charge of making things happen. Recently, Suzanne relaunched the N.Y. concert series at Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.”
“My daughter, Suzanne, has really brought organization and definition to our activities today,” agrees John Jr. “It all began when we decided to change the mission of the foundation to deal with music education, since our primary goal was to provide funding for worthy programs that filled the gap between in-school programs or in many cases where no school programs existed.
“One of my first experiences in the area was with an organization founded by the world-renowned artist Midori in New York City. In 1993, Midori had the vision to provide in-school music programs at various schools in the NYC public school system, where no programs existed. In most cases, the programs were either discontinued for lack of funding or scaled back to the bare minimum, due to lack of support from the administration, faculty, and/or parents. Midori introduced music into some of these schools by providing what they called a Music Adventure Series, in which she personally visited selected schools to provide a program to introduce students to the power of music and its importance in their lives. Following this, in certain select schools, Midori & Friends, as the organization became known, began to provide in-school music instruction programs by providing the teaching artists, instruments, and the funding. I was inspired by this and thought that programs like this should be perpetuated around the country. Eventually, I would join the board of this organization and serve as its chairman for a period of time.
“We wanted not only to support outreach programs but begin to bring music instruction to students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience a music education. Of course, many other wonderful partners were identified over the years. There are many, very dedicated individuals who recognized the lack of music education being provided, particularly in inner city schools, and they wanted to do something about it.
“Later on, we helped to develop a guitar program for the NYC schools provided with our support through Midori and Friends. This has become their number one program. With a large Hispanic population in some school districts, this has become a favorite of many students. Today, we support a number of guitar and ukulele programs that bring the music experience to students both in school, after school and out of school programs.
The D’Addarios truly put their money where their mouth is when it comes to all of this activity. As Jim notes, “At this time, we contribute anywhere from three to 10 percent of our net profits of the company to the foundation each year, and John, Joan, Janet, and I also personally contribute to the effort.” John Jr. notes, “I think it would be accurate to say [the Foundation has contributed, to date] between $10-12 million.
Not content to rest on their considerable laurels, the family continues to refine and expand their efforts. “The D’Addario Foundation recently relaunched a performance series at Carnegie Hall to provide performance opportunities to the next generation of talented guitarists,” says John Jr. “The majority of the musicians featured in the series are performing for the first time at Carnegie Hall and in New York and are winners of international competitions. We relaunched the series in 2010 on the foundation’s 30th anniversary. Because of our strong partnerships with classical guitar organizations and competitions, we are able to offer a performance series spot as a prize at some of the most prestigious competitions in the world. In addition to bringing these young players to Carnegie to perform, we also arrange for them to visit some of the NYC school music programs we support. It is a joy to see how these young students in the school programs connect with the artists and is incredibly inspirational. We present three performances in a performance series season featuring two guitarists each time. Plans for expansion beyond the guitar into other music genres is a strong possibility for the future and a way for the foundation to support burgeoning artists in the orchestral, band, and percussive world.
“We recently partnered with the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona to establish a D’Addario and Company gallery that pays tribute to the D’Addario family’s legacy in instrument accessory manufacturing. We helped establish an endowment at Hofstra University on Long Island that provided scholarships to Music Business students. We funded an educational tour of the Kansas Band where they traveled to prestigious universities throughout the country and played with each university’s orchestra, and we supported the MOMA’s Guitar Heroes exhibit. We have recently gotten involved with Music Without Borders, sending loads of D’Addario product to projects around the world in Rwanda, Palestine, Kosovo, and Bosnia.
“I have been involved with MIM since its founding. My work here in Arizona, our winter home, is to work with the development people to raise funds in support of their efforts. I have been very successful in the community I live in, raising funds and increasing the awareness of the museum. The museum and its unique message and format continues to be enjoyed by visitors from all over the world. A year ago I was asked to serve on the board of directors of the museum. I have also worked with a local music organization called Musicfest. In addition to providing the community with outstanding concerts through their outreach programs, they provide assistance in the area of music education. I help them establish a ukulele instruction program for 2nd and 3rd _grade students in schools here in Scottsdale. Since the inception three years ago, we have now expanded the program to include a guitar program that serves middle school students.”
Expanding Minds, Overcoming Conflicts
Advocating for and supporting music education and music making is more than worthy causes that the D’Addario family have chosen to get behind, as both Jim and John Jr. have deep, personal backgrounds in music that go beyond the obvious connection via the family business. Jim notes, “Personally, music is a very important part of my life. I majored in music in college, received my BA from Hofstra and still play almost everyday. We can all learn so much through music. Running my band in high school taught me how to run a business. I had to negotiate deals, make contracts, organize gigs, and so on.
“All the research shows that making music makes you smarter. Learning to play a musical instrument, learning to read music, and learning to play in any kind of ensemble are activities that are stimulating and satisfying at the same time. There is no question that children who participate in music making do better at everything else, in and out of school.
“Beyond that, music fosters creativity, endurance and resilience. It expands minds but teaching how to overcome conflicts, it teaches us how to collaborate. All of these things are essential to success in life. The New York Times article really put it best in its article, ‘Music and Success’ (NYT, 12/20/13). This is a great article that everyone in the music education world was excited to read.”
John Jr. sums up the D’Addario’s passion for music scholarship nicely: “I recognize the importance of music in everyone’s lives. People are inspired by music. It is important that it remains a part of every child’s education. Music is the universal language of mankind. I am proud to be able to, in a small way, perpetuate this.”