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2 nonprofits with a similar mission work to bring music to Peoria's youth

Children playing the guitar with Harmonize Peoria at the Heart of Illinois Fair
Peoria Music Live
Children play the guitar with Harmonize Peoria at the Heart of Illinois Fair.

While Peoria has a lively arts and music scene, actually locating the live music in the area was a struggle for one Peorian, so she decided to do something about it.

Kindall Reuschel is founder of Peoria Music Live, an online resource she started in 2017. Every weekend, Reuschel compiles all the live music happening in the area into one web post that is then published on the organization's website for the public to view. There also is an active presence on Facebook.

“So, we have local artists and venues let us know that they have a show coming up. And basically, they do that by adding us as co-hosts on their Facebook event. And once we accept that co-host request, that automatically puts it on our events page,” explained Reuschel.

Reuschel’s organization has received more than 16,000 Facebook followers over the past five years and has become a hub for everything music in thecCentral Illinois area. The website also includes a local artist index. Reuschel said Peoria Music Live has helped a lot of these artists gain a bit more traction in the community.

Kindall Reuschel, founder of Peoria Music Live and Harmonize Peoria
Jody Holtz
Kindall Reuschel, founder of Peoria Music Live and Harmonize Peoria

“The rising tide lifts all the ships,” said Reuschel. “Like I've had artists tell me that because their name is on the list, or people have seen their videos on Peoria Music Live that they've gotten messages about being booked places.”

Reuschel also noticed an increase in the amount of regular live music at smaller venues around the area that didn’t have it before, which means more money staying local.

“If you're out in the community and you are spending money at your local venues, that money is more likely to stay local than if you're spending in other places. So, music venues and places with food and drink keep a higher percentage of the money local, and so it really benefits everybody to get people out,” she said.

After accomplishing her goal of encouraging people to get out into the community and support local music, Reuschel recently set her sights on another project: the launch of her non-profit Harmonize Peoria.

“Harmonize Peoria seeks to give Peoria area youth and young adults exposure to different genres of music, and then also access to lessons, instruments and performance opportunities…I've seen what a big impact music makes,” said Reuschel.

Reuschel recalled when she volunteered at Peoria High School to teach economics through their Junior Achievement program.

“Every time we had a little bit of time at the end of class, I would ask the different classes, ‘So, who do you know who's in a band? What bands should I be looking at? What artists do I not know yet that we need to get involved with Peoria Music Live?’ And time and again they would give me funny looks, and ‘How would I know somebody in a band?’ Like I heard that exact phrase several times. And so, then I started asking around and realizing that a lot of their exposure to music is lacking. And they do have music programs, but the budgets are tight in the Peoria schools… If they haven't heard it on the radio, then they haven't heard it. And so that was what really got the wheels turning and that was pre-COVID.”

From there, she began looking for a building to run Peoria Music Live and Harmonize Peoria out of. After securing what Reuschel called a perfect building for the operations at 1113 N North St. in Peoria, it was time to talk programming.

“We ran our first program over the summer... every Tuesday evening, we had a garage band open stage, because there's a garage on the back of the building…we have a bunch of instruments, and we have a PA and everything has been donated. Which is awesome. We have a really supportive music community,” Reuschel said.

Performance from one of this past summer's Garage Band Open Stage
Peoria Music Live 2022
Kindall Reuschel
Performance from one of this past summer's Garage Band Open Stage

Every Tuesday, Reuschel hired a local band to run the stage, inviting anyone to sign up and hop on stage to join in on the music, or to just try something new.

“But I also told everybody, the instruments are there for you to get comfortable with, like, you don't have to get up on stage to sit in one of these chairs, holding a guitar, or trying out the cornet, or whatever it is that looks interesting to you,” noted Reuschel.

While the program was successful at first, the start of school slowed attendance, and eventually Reuschel decided to stop the program. However, she does hope to start back up again in the late spring once more people can enjoy it.

For now, Reuschel is focusing her energy on implementing youth music lessons and classes.

A child at Harmonize Peoria's booth at the Ignite event
Kindall Reuschel
A child at Harmonize Peoria's booth at the Ignite event

“It's something that's really lacking in a lot of organizations, being able to give private lessons," she said. "And a lot of students you know, just need a little bit of extra help to stick with it to either hit the next level, or even just stick with the music a little bit longer. If it feels too hard and you don't have anybody to show you one on one, then you're a lot more likely to just put it away and not try anymore.”

Harmonize Peoria is currently trying to get a list of potential students and teachers for these lessons, as well as secure grant funding and private donations so they can provide teachers with $30 an hour and operate on a pay-as-you-can model for the children involved.

“We have a sign-up list on our website and Facebook page for anybody who has students who are interested," said Reuschel. "And basically, we'll just start matching them up as funding comes in…one of the questions on the signup sheet is how much could you afford. And I make it very clear that the reality could be that's zero. But for some people, it's 15 or $20 a week, but that's still not enough to get them a lesson right now. And so, we're going to work with that.”

Reaching their musical endeavors

However, in order to take these lessons instruments are a necessity. And while Harmonize Peoria always accepts instrument donations, another organization is working hard to make sure students have the instruments they need to reach new levels in their musical endeavors.

The Peoria Instrument Project was founded this past January by instrument repair technician Jesse Church.

“We take donated instruments, and I repair them. We take funds, we use those, and we donate them back to the Peoria schools that desperately need them,” said Church.

The organization primarily focuses on area middle and high schools, especially those located in District 150. Todd Kelly is the chair of the Department of Music at Bradley University, and also serves on the board of directors of the project.

“Any kid who has an interest in playing and doesn't have an opportunity because they don't have an instrument or don't have an avenue to get to, we want to help those kids. We want to make sure that anyone who's interested in music has the opportunity. So of course, we have great teachers in 150, but not great resources all the time, and so a group like this can really help to fill in that gap for those kids,” said Kelly.

Directors of music programs at Peoria area schools can fill out a form on the Peoria Instrument Project website if they’re in need of music resources.

“And I'll reach out to them, and we'll assess their individual needs. Recently, a few weeks ago, I met with Christopher Render at the Richwoods High School, and for a few hours we went around every single aspect of their band program. And we…just made note of every single thing that they might need, and how we might be able to help them with that,” explained Church.

Todd Kelly (left), Chair of the Department of Music at Bradley University and Jesse Church, founder and President of Peoria Instrument Project
Jody Holtz
Todd Kelly (left), Chair of the Department of Music at Bradley University and Jesse Church, founder and President of Peoria Instrument Project

Most of the instruments and musical supplies come from donations. Church said a lot of people have instruments sitting around their house that they don’t use anymore,noting maintenance of the instruments, both before and after they are donated, is important to consider.

“There are some national organizations that do a lot of donating to schools, but they don't do any regular maintenance,” said Church. “So they can donate a really nice saxophone…but within a year or two, that saxophone probably won't be able to play anymore, unless they get it taken in regularly. That's one thing we strive to do especially with District 150 is keep those instruments maintained year after year.”

So far, roughly 40 instruments are in the organization's inventory, and 10 have been donated. Church is anticipating many more in the future. Both he and Kelly say they have seen a lot of smiles from children who have already received instruments, and the school directors and administrators are incredibly grateful.

“Most of these directors you know they’re our friends…I've been in this community a long time and know all these directors here and know how difficult their work is sometimes when they don't have the resources and…these folks are there because they want to help kids for sure. And so, to be able to just be a part of that, and to be able to hand an instrument to a student who otherwise would not have been able to do anything with the music is an amazing thing,” said Kelly.

Church also is working on implementing a program that provides grant application assistance to music directors so they can see more money coming in from other avenues.

“There's a lot of grant money out there, and music teachers are incredibly busy, and they don't have time, or sometimes they don't have the proper resources and skills to write out a full grant application,” Church said.

Good for the brain

The work of Harmonize Peoria and the Peoria Instrument Project comes at a time when some of Peoria’s youth is struggling, according to Reuschel.

“There's a lot of trauma, a lot of hardship that's happening in the Peoria area as a whole and art and music help with those things. They do good things to your brain…and to your body, just your hormones and chemicals like…there’s scientific stuff that way that it's helping.”

And at a time where many music programs are underfunded, Church stressed the importance of keeping these programs alive and plentiful in our city.

“There's a lot of studies that have definitively proven that being involved in music makes you a better listener, it makes you better at communicating and working as a group. It also has been shown to improve all sorts of scores, test scores, graduation rate. So, a music program at a school is incredibly beneficial to the students that are taking it,” Church said.

With such a similar mission in mind, the two organizations are hopeful for a partnership in the future.

“We want to get instruments in kid's hands too, but our focus is the lessons part of it and the learning, the classes," said Reuschel. "So, we're actually hoping to be able to work with them… we have some instruments that will come in other ways, but when we have a need we are planning to reach out to them and see if they can help us fill it. So yeah, I'm excited about that program.”

You can find out how to donate to the Peoria Instrument Project here or shop their wish list. For more information on Harmonize Peoria’s programs, including lessons, visit their website here.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant development director, assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.