Ear Candy
Nate Anderson, founder and executive director of Ear Candy, playing on the piano. Anderson does not consider himself a musician but says his few piano lessons as a child gave him a great appreciation of music that he hopes to pass on to kids today. Allison Hurtado/AFN

A local non-profit is bringing good news to needy schools by providing instruments to kids who cannot afford to buy or rent one of their own.

Ear Candy provides youth access to music education by offering small classes to kids and music-based field trips, but its main goal is to get instruments for schools in need through instrument drives.

"I started it about four years ago," said Nate Anderson, founder of the group. "I did my research and saw how many cuts were going on in music education and education as a whole. I thought: Who's doing anything about this? No one was really doing anything to the level I thought it needed to be done. I thought: Half the solution in music education is just collecting dust in people's closets. If the community knew about a way that they could actually address this issue, and especially with something as simple as recycling their instrument, then I think they would get behind it."

Anderson has paired with fire stations across the Valley to collect the instruments year-round. The organization's website, earcandycharity.org, takes requests from Title 1 schools for instruments that kids are unable to afford. Then the firefighters and Ear Candy volunteers go together to drop off the instruments. A letter is sent back to the original owner of the instrument to let them know where their instrument ended up.

"It's crazy," Anderson said. "We've got the fire trucks there, which is already exciting, then you've got the firemen there, which is really exciting, and then you've got instruments, and it just blows up. Kids want music. Not only do they want music but there's so many studies that back up how important it is. They want it, it's good for them and so when we give it to them it's crazy, in a good way."

Since 2007 the program has been growing quickly. In 2009 the group helped 3,500 kids and in 2010 it helped more than 10,000, Anderson said. This year the goal is to help more than 20,000. For now the group is only statewide with 80 collection sites in the Valley, but it will grow in the next few months as they team up with the Moody Blues for week-long drives in many states.

Recently, the group expanded to set up drive sites at Ahwatukee and Tempe fire stations.

"I think it's great," said Brad Whitley, firefighter for the city of Tempe. "It's always great to have a new charity in the area and something different like this. We're happy to see them expanding and we're happy to be able to help."

The group just hopes its efforts will help kids in the area develop an appreciation of music.

"Music is a universal language," Anderson said. "It's something that is so insanely powerful. It's what gets me through every day and I don't even play music. I'm not a musician, I just love music. As a kid I played piano and I think it really just opened my eyes to how cool music was, and then I found it on my own. I started listening to live music and seeing bands. Had I not had that I don't think I would have had the foundation to just be a great appreciator of music. It's a critical element of my being."

Ear Candy operates not only on donated instruments but on monetary donations and volunteers.

"We're a 501 c-3 non profit so we're definitely 100 percent driven on individual donations and financial contributions," Anderson said. "If we got 10,000 instruments in that's great, but if we didn't fundraise any money it's not going to place a single instrument. It doesn't magically all happen with no money or people."

At the moment Ear Candy does not give instruments to individuals. The organization requires schools with an already established music program to request the instruments so that they are sure their limited number of instruments are being used. Besides organs, the group will take any instrument. For larger items like pianos, arrangements can be made for pick up. For more information on drive sites, volunteering or donating to Ear Candy, visit earcandycharity.org.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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