The summer is usually a slow season for 15-year-old Almitra Guart, yet this one has been busier than ever thanks to Music For Change.
The sophomore at the Albany Academy for Girls has become a spokesperson for the nonprofit, which works to spread positivity during the pandemic through the arts. Through its website and social media channels, Music For Change showcases videos by artists, many of them high school students, from around the world singing, dancing and performing. Some videos include messages of hope and others speak to the struggles of adapting to life during the pandemic.
“We use it to spread awareness, positivity and hope during these difficult times,” Guart said.
Music For Change was founded in June by high schoolers Rosanna Gao of Long Island and Devika Gehlaut of London. The former is a friend of Guart’s and asked her to join as a spokesperson shortly after Guart had submitted a video of herself dancing en pointe. From there, Guart said the organization has blossomed.
“It started with just a website and an Instagram with very few followers. We had a YouTube that was getting no views. We were just taking video submissions from people we knew,” Guart said.
Now, they’ve collected over 200 videos from people in 20 different countries. They’ve also partnered with other nonprofits like the Indiabulls Foundation, to bring music lessons to underprivileged communities in India, as well as Clarity to Charity, which helps nonprofits reach people most in need.
While Guart said they’re still growing their video library and looking for video submissions, they also want to host more virtual concerts for the elderly and raise money for social justice causes.
“We thought at first it would just be a way to spread positivity because people are so unsure of what’s going to happen with the coronavirus,” Guart said, “Then we saw the social injustice movement and the [call] for change there and we thought ‘Well, this is even more important now because we need to show that we are supportive of all communities and it’s even more of a reason to spread hope.’”
The group is run mainly by high school students from across the world, including India, China, London and New York City. They meet each weekend on a Zoom call. With members in so many different time zones, it can be difficult to nail down a time to meet, but Guart said she’s learned about other countries on these calls.
“I’ve been in contact with people from places I’ve never been,” Guart said.
They often swap and compare experiences about how their hometowns are being impacted by the coronavirus, according to Guart. They also share stories surrounding social justice movements, like Black Lives Matter.
“I know in London the coronavirus is still an issue and many of the social issues that we have here do apply to other countries we found. Even if they don’t, they still want to help with them here and show support,” Guart said.
As a spokesperson for Music For Change — the only one in the Capital Region as far as she’s aware — she’s always looking for ways to gather more videos, raise money and get the word out about the organization.
“I like it because it does keep me productive. I tend to get a little lazy over the summer. Between this and dance classes it keeps me on my toes,” Guart said.
Her parents also appreciate her work with the organization. Her father, Al Guart, is a musician who appreciates the positive impact that the arts can have and plans to submit a performance video soon.
Her mother, Kathy Guart, works at Beverwyck, a senior living facility in Slingerlands and has seen firsthand how difficult it's been for residents to not be able to have visitors. Her mother's stories from work are partly what inspired the dance video that Guart created for Music For Change.
“I decided to do this piece because I think it accurately represents just how alone some people can feel without being able to see their family or friends during this quarantine. I hope that this piece can raise awareness to the toll it can take on your mental health and help everybody out there to not feel as alone,” Guart said in an introduction to the video.
Guart, who has been dancing for more than a decade, most recently with the Albany Berkshire Ballet, goes on to dance to a song called “I’m Right Here.”
Other videos featured on Music For Change show young artists performing traditional and modern dances, singing songs that they find encouraging, and presenting original spoken word pieces like the one titled “Black Lives Matter,” performed by 16-year-old Danielle Wiliams.
“There is resilience in this skin from way down within, from ship to ship, from whip to whip, from click to click. Having no privilege is not the same as having no power,” Wiliams said in the video.
In another video, high school sophomore John Xie recites a poem called “Working from Home,” by Michael R. Whitney.
“It’s just a piece talking about how the reality of working from home is so different from what we thought it would be. Typically, when we had work and school normally, we would imagine how great it would be working from home or doing school from home. But in reality, it’s not that idealistic,” Xie said.
Each video starts with an introduction explaining what the piece means to the artist and how they hope it can inspire others. Guart wants to encourage more people to submit videos via music-for-change.org and the organization is running a competition with a $500 prize for best video and fan-favorite video. The deadline to submit is September 1.
“We want to bring smiles on people’s faces through the universal language of music,” Guart said.