Instruments For Change

By: David Zhao

Information Access , Artist

It's a shame that music education is not made a priority in the USA. According to the White House's Turnaround Arts program, lower socio-economic communities rely on privately funded (after school) music programs which only benefit a small percentage of children. As a result, 1.3 million elementary school students and 2.1 million secondary students have no access to music education. 

In a world where music charts are dominated by rap, rock, pop, country and more modern sounding music, the question of why classical music is even relevant in today's world always comes up. From our point of view, classical music lays the foundation someone to discover their inner genuis. It trains the brain to acknowlege all parts that work together to make a whole.  Within an orchestration of classical music, your ear can be trained to hear the high riffs of the violin and the low rumble of chello juxtaposed against the shrill of a trumpet and the soft strings of a harp. 

While listening to music has it's own amazing benefits, playing it is even better for brain development as it requires fine motor skills which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain.  Studies indicate that reading and playing music combines the linguistic and mathematical disciplines, engaging both the left (logical) and right (creative) hemispheres. As a result there is an increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum –the bridge between the two hemispheres– to allow messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes.  


Instruments for Change provides a platform for student artists to utilize their passion and talent in music to effect great change in the world around them. As music has proven to be an integral component of a solid education, we organize regular benefit concerts, especially in the lower socioeconomic quartile. In a national schooling system that generally places little actual emphasis, interest, or funding in the music department, Instruments for Change strives to spread awareness of the importance of music. We also hope to support musical education for at least some of the estimated 2.1 million students who have yet to been offered one by their respective schools.

Currently, we have 42 musicians and have organized 9 concerts in our community. With each benefit concert, we bring together two to ten musicians who perform recital-style. This supports our cause in two distinct ways: (i) raising money for charity, and (ii) spreading our love for music to those who come and listen, in the hopes that more people will realize how important music is in our daily lives and our education.

In addition, we also are planning to host events in which we can teach music theory, composition, and performance to other youth in our community who want a music education but cannot afford the associated high price tag.


The general public can help support this project the following ways:

PRIORITY #1: organize a benefit concert

On average, it costs $187 dollars per student annually for K-12 music education

PRIORITY #2: join our movement

we’re actively seeking new members/performers and we’d love for you to be a part of Instruments for Change

PRIORITY #3: Make a donation

every penny raised goes to support our concerts as well as other local and national charities!

PRIORITY #4: advice for peers wanting to launch their own social movement

Go for it!

Team Members

  • Meet David Zhao, Shannon Cassady, Gene Pak, Billy Wu, Nicole Po and Andrew Barnwell. Each of us -- and every one of Instruments for Change’s members -- share at least two things in common: a deep-rooted passion for music, and a desire to help others. From international award-winning pianists to accomplished jazz saxophonists, we are all fortunate enough to have been so highly supported by the community surrounding us, and we strive to utilize our talents to give back to that community. In our case, we host benefit events as platforms for fundraising and supporting various pressing and charitable causes that we are interested in or directly affected by. We also firmly believe in the importance of an affordable music education for anyone who wants one, especially in an academic system that seems to focus less and less on music.


Benefit Concert For Music Education

May 8, 2015

Ten sensational concert pianists and dozens of talented young musicians took the stage at Benaroya Hall at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 8 for the eighth annual Ten Grands Seattle benefit concert. 

Shannon Cassady, who was one of seven national finalists in the 2012 Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Junior Piano Competition held in New York City was one of the 10 performers. In 2014 Shannon became Washington State’s MTNA Senior Division Alternate winner. This multi award-winning musician has performed twice with international orchestras during the Music Fest Perugia in Italy. As a 10th grader at Interlake High Schools’ Gifted International Baccalaureate program, she maintains an impressive academic record and is active in several extra-curricular organizations including a swim team and a student-led nonprofit she co-founded called “Instruments for Change.”

Read the full article from the Seattle Symphony.

Read about us on Huffington Post!

Feb. 25, 2015

The Huffington Post did a great piece on how we are contibuting to the community through musicial talent and by encouraging other young people to make a difference with their own skills.  

"In essence, our organization strives to send the message that the youth matter and that anyone can make a marked impact on this world by utilizing his or her talents," David said in an email to The Huffington Post.

MTV called David a "bad-ass"

Feb. 20, 2015

Though we're currently active in Seattle, MTV's interview pointed out that we've garnered attention around the world, even the “support of Music Perugia Fest in Italy.”  Lesson learned: Classical music is far from Baroque-n.

Read the full MTV article here.

Evangelists for classical music!

Dec. 14, 2014

We’ve all been active in the Seattle-area youth music scene for many years even before Instruments for Change’s inception in late 2013, but many of us former competitors came together to form IFC after being inspired to find a meaningful way to give back, united behind a passion to use music to do good in our communities.

The Seattle Times wrote an article about Instruments For Change, profiling David Zhao's love of music from an early age.

“Most of the teens around in our community in high schools are not really excited about the genre,” he said. “So we try to keep it alive and at least let them appreciate what classical music is.”

In exposing people to the genre, the group hopes to go one step further by helping provide music education to students who need it.

Read the full article here.

ClubWhat, by Billy Wu

Nov. 23, 2014

The co-founder of Instruments For Change also developed ClubWhat, an Android and iOS mobile app that connects students to clubs.  

ClubWhat is a mobile app that Billy Wu founded and developed beginning in his sophomore year in high school. The app helps students discover their passions by providing a platform for effective school club organization, promotion, and discovery. The app is available on iOS and Android and utilizes Facebook Graph API and Google App Engine. Students can view all the clubs in their school alongside relevant information and updates through the app. Students can register their school clubs to the database through the ClubWhat website.

THOUSANDS raised, and not just for MusicED

March 25, 2014

While we have donated the proceeds of our concerts to Washington State Music Teachers Association Investment fund, which provides scholarships for disadvantaged youth musicians to financially support their long-term music education, we also provide relief to help other causes and organizations in need too.

Of the $5,000 we've raised, we also helped victims of the Oso Mudslide Relief Fund. In case you didn't hear about it, in 2014 our community suffered a tragic loss when homes were flattened by the fast-moving mud, which experts say reached 60-miles per hour.

We believe that the proceeds of our events should go to supporting various causes that we're passionate about or that impact our own lives in some way.


Meet Andew Barnwell.  A fun fact about him is that he lived in Denmark for three years.

Ravel Gaspard De La Nuit - Ondine

Gene Pack playing:

Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op 82-Vivace

Max Ma perfroms:


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