Chicago song­writer or­ga­nizes a Sym­phony of Change for lo­cal youth

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY SE­LENA FRAGASSI For the Sun- Times Se­lena Fragassi is a lo­cal free­lance writer.

In the com­ing years, T. L. Williams will be as much as a name to re­mem­ber in this city as Com­mon or Chance the Rap­per. Like both of them, Williams has found crit­i­cal ac­claim for his mu­sic — most no­tably, the 2014 smooth R& B hit “Get­ting Mo Money Than You,” which has gar­nered nearly 1.2 mil­lion views on YouTube, led to a Chicago Mu­sic Award for Song­writer of the Year in 2015, and given Williams an op­por­tu­nity to ap­pear on mul­ti­ple episodes of the FOX se­ries “Em­pire.” But also like Com­mon and Chance, Williams will be as much known for his phi­lan­thropic work ben­e­fit­ting Chicago youth.

Just last year, the Bell­wood na­tive ( who is also the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Chi- Sound Records and CEO of pro­duc­tion com­pany and la­bel Quiet King­dom) started an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Sym­phony of Change, Inc., with a mis­sion to “pro­vide a cre­ative out­let for stu­dents and to raise aware­ness about the im­por­tance and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance of mu­sic pro­grams in the schools.” Sym­phony of Change is a di­vi­sion of the na­tional In­fi­nite Schol­ars or­ga­ni­za­tion, which pro­vides schol­ar­ships for un­der­priv­i­leged stu­dents so that they may pur­sue higher ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vanced de­grees. Williams has been a brand am­bas­sador for In­fi­nite Schol­ars for years but also wanted to con­trib­ute to stu­dents in his own com­mu­nity the best way he knew how, through mu­sic.

“Not only are mu­sic and arts pro­grams the first to go when a school has bud­get cuts but it’s been proven that a school that has a blood­stream of mu­sic and art com­ing through it is a hard school to close, and that’s im­por­tant in Chicago where many schools are at risk of shut­ting down,” he says, claim­ing that through his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s re­search they have found that schools that of­fer mu­sic pro­grams typ­i­cally see grad­u­a­tion rates over 90 per­cent, com­pared to only 72 per­cent at schools that do not of­fer mu­sic pro­grams. As well, schools also find higher at­ten­dance ( 92 per­cent vs. 85 per­cent) when there is a mu­sic pro­gram. “Mu­sic can ac­tu­ally make it so schools don’t de­te­ri­o­rate from in­side out,” Williams adds.

In par­tic­u­lar, Sym­phony of Change’s “Mu­sic For­ward” ini­tia­tive aims to re­store or cre­ate band pro­grams by as­sem­bling staff, bring­ing in in­stru­ments and in­struc­tional books and en­sur­ing the evolu- tion of the mu­sic depart­ment keeps up with the field of the arts so that stu­dents can have the ground­work for a long, suc­cess­ful ca­reer.

There are also in­ter­ac­tive field trips, in­clud­ing last fall when a group of 30 stu­dents met famed jazz mu­si­cian and band­leader Wyn­ton Marsalis dur­ing a stop at Sym­phony Cen­ter. As a child, Williams was a tal­ented trum­peter and found a men­tor and teacher in Marsalis. He wants to pay it for­ward to the stu­dents in­volved in Sym­phony of Change.

“I was blessed to be raised in a school dis­trict that had a band pro­gram and cared about it,” Williams says, “and I wanted to make sure that other kids in the Chicago area and be­yond have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties and same re­sources I had grow­ing up be­cause I know how in­stru­men­tal that was for me.”

The first bene­fac­tor of Sym­phony of Change was a pi­lot pro­gram with Ron­ald Brown Academy in the West Pull­man/ Calumet Park neigh­bor­hood, which Williams calls a “great turnout” that cul­mi­nated in a con­cert last Christ­mas. This year, Sym­phony of Change plans to ex­pand to five more schools and even­tu­ally find a way to turn it na­tional through part­ner­ships.

“We are here and ready to col­lab­o­rate with any­one who wants to col­lab­o­rate, be­cause it takes a vil­lage,” Williams says, hint­ing at the lo­cal in­spi­ra­tion he’s gar­nered from pro­grams such as Com­mon’s Com­mon Ground Foun­da­tion, and Chance the Rap­per’s So­cialWorks non­profit, which has gen­er­ously do­nated to CPS. “As we con­tinue to grow we are ex­cited about future col­lab­o­ra­tions.”

Fund­ing comes from mul­ti­ple sources, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions that can be made on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site ( www. sym­pho­nyof- change. org). Williams and his band, The Storm Chaser Or­ches­tra, also have planned a record re­lease show for Williams’ third al­bum, “Love in the 3rd Wave,” at the Park West on Fe­bru­ary 15 with pro­ceeds go­ing to Sym­phony of Change.

Williams says the in­spi­ra­tion for “Love in the 3rd Wave” came from a book by for­mer AOL chair­man Steve Case about the “third wave” of the In­ter­net when tech­nol­ogy will be em­bed­ded into ev­ery fab­ric of daily life, and in or­der to sur­vive, it will re­quire tak­ing el­e­ments from the first wave be­fore the dawn of so­cial me­dia. “We will have to have more hu­man con­tact, form more part­ner­ships and get out there and get to know each other and help each other out,” Williams ex­plains, “and that in­spires me.”

Mar­i­lyn Car­roll and T. L. Williams go over mu­sic dur­ing a band re­hearsal at Ron­ald. H. Brown Academy.

T. L. Williams founded a band at Ron­ald H. Brown Academy. The mu­si­cians are pre­par­ing for a Spring Con­cert. | LES­LIE AD­KINS PHO­TOS/ FOR THE SUN- TIMES

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