How an 8-person guitar ensemble grew into a 2,500-person musical powerhouse

How an 8-person guitar ensemble grew into a 2,500-person musical powerhouse

Access to a musical education has been proven to result in higher graduation rates and greater critical thinking skills. Many schools across the country aren’t fortunate enough to have funding for these musical programs, so various non-profit organizations have been created to combat this problem. Young Musicians Unite is one such organization, and their main goal is to provide schools with a limited musical music program with free music programming.

The volunteer group, commonly known as YMU, was founded in 2013 by Sammy Gonzalez. Gonzalez was born and raised in Miami and he rose to become an internationally acclaimed musician who has toured all over the United States and beyond.

Gonzalez found his love for music at a young age. Growing up in a single-parent household, music gave him not only a father figure, but a second family. Gonzalez’ musical mentor, Clark Douglas Burris, became very close to him and became a father to Gonzalez through music.

Later in his life, Gonzalez saw the amount of schools that weren’t fortunate enough to afford a musical education and created YMU as a response. He started with 8 people in 2013. Now, YMU provides music education to over 2,500 students across 8 schools in Miami Dade County. YMU holds various festivals throughout the year in order to raise money for musical equipment, with their largest festival, the Spring Musical Festival, aiming to raise over $150,000. The students that play in the festivals come from all parts of Miami, with ages ranging from 12 to 18 years old. 

Lily Kaplan ‘22, a junior at Ransom Everglades, works at YMU as an intern and is currently playing in one of their partnership bands. Kaplan joined in 2016 when a family friend told her that she would enjoy it. When asked how YMU has affected her, she answered that it’s “given me a different type of family. It’s a family. Young Musicians Unite. We are a family centered around music and providing children with music.”

Jackson Mopsick ‘21, who also works at YMU, said the organization “has really opened up my eyes to all the change that can be made in our community. I’ve been able to make a greater impact through music because of YMU.”

YMU has been greatly affected by the global pandemic, but they have adapted to overcome these obstacles.  Regarding COVID-19, current CFO of Young Musicians Unite, Melanie Greenwald, stated that “We had to pivot our model to a virtual model, and because we’re usually in schools we had to adapt and do everything virtually.”

Teaching a music class with no physical interactions is something that not many people can do, but YMU continues because they realize the impact music can have on someone’s life.

Mopsick explained, “I couldn’t play in most of the shows because of Corona, and as a result, YMU was unable to raise a lot of the money it should have. They have an annual Spring Benefits Concert where they have a certain goal of money that they try to raise, and due to [COVID-19], they lost out on this money.

As with many other non-profits right now, YMU is working to adapt to COVID-19 circumstances. 

The impact of YMU goes far beyond education. As Kaplan ’22 was happy to say, YMU has created not only a learning opportunity, but a family built on the foundation of the love of music and the desire to help others.