Portland, OR. Most piano teachers and students aren’t able to sit side-by-side these days; they’re learning via zoom. That’s the case with the young teachers at the Play It Forward Foundation. It was originally established by famous Portland pianist Michael Allen Harrison and has aimed to keep young musicians moving forward since its inception. It primarily operates with two distinct missions: the first is to take in donated instruments (primarily pianos) to rehouse them in public school programs and student homes; the second aims to keep these musicians in lessons while offering new teachers consistent work.

The first mission, wherein donated instruments are rehoused into public school programs and particularly talented young musicians’ homes, is just a part of how the Play It Forward Foundation is helping the community. The program’s Executive Director, Marietta Harrison, says that they look at nearly three hundred pianos a year, ultimately accepting around one hundred of these (with sometimes up to five calls a day for potential donations). These pianos are vetted and reconditioned prior to being donated in order to offer better services to the school programs or child’s home they end up in. In a time when public school’s art funding seems to be ever-declining, the organization pays for these services out of pocket in order to better serve the community.

With classes moved entirely online for the foreseeable future, potential barriers are further erased.

Rather than simply donating and dipping, so to speak, the second part of their mission aims to keep a consistent hand within Portland’s musical community. The nonprofit’s goal here is to remove any potential barriers between the students and their music– whether that be economic, logistical, or otherwise. Started in 2017 with a mere twelve students, the program was up to one hundred students by 2019.

Online piano recitals with both Michael and Marietta Harrison present.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the program would offer work to young teachers seeking experience who would often travel to the school or the student’s home in order to better erase these potential barriers faced. Currently, the program has gone completely online and classes are being held through Zoom meetings. Given everything going on in the world right now, Marietta Harrison says that this program has always aimed to be proactive rather than reactive; establishing itself in the community as an organization that erases barriers for students and encourages musical growth.

About Play it Forward:

Nearly 20 years ago, the City of Portland passed a measure that cut critical funding to music education in our public schools. Having benefited from free music education in public schools, that eventually led to a successful career as a composer and pianist, Michael Allen Harrison could not watch this happen silently. Play It Forward, affectionately known as PIF was born. Play It Forward distributes gently used instruments gifted by donors to students and music programs throughout the Portland Metropolitan Community.

If you’d like to donate to a great cause, you can do so here.