Music For Change advocates for social justice through the arts

Rowan Mally, Staff Writer

“Music is a universal language,” Devika Gehlaut (10) said. “It can speak louder than words and influence people of all different backgrounds.” 

During the height of the COVID pandemic, Gehlaut and her friend, Rosanna Gao, a junior at Great Neck South High School, founded the Music for Change (MFC) organization to spread positivity and awareness about social issues, such as Black Lives Matters, LGBTQ+ rights, and Anti-Asian violence, through music, dance, and theatre, Gehlaut said. She noticed performers were feeling lost and isolated during quarantine, so she wanted to use music to unite individuals in a time of isolation. 

Gehlaut and Gao decided to create a YouTube channel where they posted singing videos to spread joy and to fill the void in performance, Gehlaut said. “When the channel gained traction, we started posting other people’s videos, and Music for Change came to be,” she said. 

MFC has already completed various projects that utilize music to spread awareness regarding social justice issues. “We created the opening and closing performance for National High School Model UN,” Gehlaut said. “The performance celebrated the uniqueness of various cultures and was able to spread awareness regarding representation of Black and Indigenious People of Color in the arts.” 

Gehlaut said the organization has also hosted community events such as weekly classes with St. Cecilia’s Orphanage in Zambia, Asian-American representation webinars, and citizen artistry workshops at International Thespian Society. 

The pair has since spent the past year expanding MFC into an international program. “The Music For Change team has grown to over 30 people and we have MFC chapters in different countries such as India, China, Nigeria, and Canada,” Gehlaut said. “We’re only continuing to expand.”

Piper Wallace (11) serves as MFC’s Head of Marketing. Wallace was drawn to MFC because she believes music is an outlet of expression, and, especially during the volatile social climate of 2020, she saw music as a way of connecting people from different backgrounds.

Wallace attributes MFC’s rapid expansion to the number of interviews early team members conducted with local news outlets. “We must have sent hundreds of emails stating our mission statement and intentions to news outlets within the first fews months of launching,” she said. 

Aside from spreading awareness, MFC also leads direct advocacy and fundraising efforts. “We have partnered with numerous organizations and raised over $10,000 last year alone,” Gehlaut said. Wallace said the majority of these donations went to COVID relief funds and campaigns for performance organizations.

MFC will be hosting a concert at Carnegie Hall this October to raise money for social inclusion. It has also spoken directly with the New York City Council regarding budget cuts towards arts programs in schools and on Broadway, a reminder that the fight for increased accessibility to music and the arts is ongoing, Gehlaut said. 

Additionally, with Wallace’s help, MFC has partnered with the organization “Be An Arts Hero” to push for the passing of the DAWN (Defend Arts Workers Now) Act, which would help compensate performers during COVID due to their inability to perform. Wallace also hosted an open mic night for children with disabilities at Daniel’s Music, she said. 

The organization has been featured in numerous outlets, including Interlochen, Dramatics.org, MyLondon, and National Public Radio. Wallace has also been interviewed by local newspapers and was featured on the “Happy Singer” podcast to spread MFC’s message, she said.

While MFC has a head start with their initiatives outside of school, they also hope to create a club at school, Gehlaut said. “The club can serve as a space where we can focus on creating community projects through music to benefit our school and give back to the community.”