A Brooklyn non-profit has figured out how to harness the creativity of young local musicians for the good of other youth. Kids Rock for Kids finds talented kid and teenage rockers, and books concerts to raise money for other children in need. It's not your average recital.
The group's co-founder, Dave Miller, and two young musicians, 7-year-old Bay Melnick Virgolino and 16-year-old Masha Avrutsky, recently sat down with WNYC's David Furst to talk about the effort and what the music means to them.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. (Listen to the story, below, to hear Bay Melnick Virgolino in action.)
David Furst: Dave, Kids Rock for kids is a local organization that, of course,works with kids from the area. But it also has a pretty global reach. Can you tell us more about how these young musicians come to Kids Rock for Kids and how this whole system works?
Dave Miller: Well, it started with small shows that we were doing in our community with my co-founder, Lisa Schorr. Our kids were in bands, and the audience started to grow. And we realized, okay, this has an opportunity, if there's an audience, to do something with that music and create fundraising concerts. Once we started doing that, we reached out to people around the city, music schools, and we had auditions, and we started to see the incredible talent that's in the city.
But just when we were going to have our first big show, where we had done citywide auditions, that's when the pandemic hit. Literally our first show was planned for two weeks after schools closed. So we shifted. We recorded everyone, videos and audio of everybody in the rehearsal rooms, and we did a livestream. And when we did the livestream, suddenly we were starting to hear from people from around the world. Musicians were reaching out to us to get involved. And it just kind of went from there, you know? We had a year and a half before we were back to live shows, and we just created these connections. We did some virtual productions – kids from every continent in some bands; other bands fully formed, from all around the world.
Well, we have some musicians in the room today. Bay and Masha, how did you both start playing your instruments? Bay, how about you? You are seven years old! When did you first start playing?
Bay Melnick Virgolino: When I was five.
When you were five? How did you get so good so fast?
BMV: It wasn’t so fast. It was two years.
Two years! That's a lot of practice.
Oh, come on: it's a lot of practice. You must have been practicing a ton during that time, right?
BMV: I practiced more when it was COVID.
Masha, what about you? When did you start playing?
Masha Avrutsky: I started playing bass in late July of 2020. I used to play violin — that was my first instrument, for the first eight years of my life. But then I transitioned to bass, which I love dearly.
A big part of the Kids Rock for Kids experience are the concerts themselves. Masha and Bay, what are your favorite parts about playing music live for other people?
MA: I'd say that the crowd interactions are quite awesome, because you see people who are just like so in the music that you play that they're moving and dancing and just laughing. It's good to be able to connect with people in that way.
And Bay, how about you? Do you like playing in front of a group of people watching you playing the guitar?
BMV: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Another pillar of the Kids Rock for Kids mission is giving, and this summer the Kids Rock for kids festival helped raise $10,000, in part for kids and teens in Ukraine. Masha, I understand this was especially important for you, because you are Ukrainian. What has this been like to understand that you playing music could be having a direct effect on the lives of other people?
MA: Well, I am part Ukrainian, but I'm also part Russian, which means that I feel like I have an extra responsibility to help people in need, who are affected by those who are somewhat related to me. I think it's extremely important that Kids Rock for Kids is doing this, because I feel like often we forget what's going on in the rest of the world. And this really highlights something that we shouldn't be turning our heads away from.
Dave Miller, can you talk a little more about the fundraising element?
DM: Even from our small community shows, we wanted our kids to learn to be good citizens, both in their communities and global. So there's always been this dual component. Our very early shows, we were connected with an orphanage in Afghanistan, where the kids there, the girls in this orphanage, were great musicians, but they couldn't play out in public, because it was too dangerous. So we actually would have them at our shows via Skype, and then they would watch the other sets. They knew that the funds being raised were partially going to help them, so it created this incredible bond between the actual New York City kids and the Afghan girls who wouldn't have met each other otherwise. And the fact that they were doing it for this joint project was really significant to everybody.
Dave, just to finish up, can you tell us about some of the other local kid bands that you guys work with?
DM: We have more bands in our rotation than ever. I think we've seen about 30 local bands this year, and we keep growing. And they range from indie pop, a little more chill... we've started to feature some kind of edgy jazz bands, we have some bands that combine hip hop, rap, funk, jazz into a rock kind of combo – they're all over the place. Some do psychedelic bringing back the '60s Janis Joplin stuff. But it's really a lot of original music as well as covers. I think more than people would realize, these teens are writing incredible songs.
The next Kids Rock for Kids showcase will be held at The Bitter End (147 Bleecker St., Greenwich Village) on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m.; for more details and to purchase tickets, go to bitterend.com.