My Cause

Living for the ‘Lightbulb’ Moment

By Julissa James

Music for Minors Executive Director Sonja Wohlgemuth. (Illustration by Olivia Wise)

Sonja Wohlgemuth’s commitment to music runs baritone deep. The former chorister for the San Francisco Symphony chorus and the San Francisco Opera has harmonized her passions — for musical performance and education — as the executive director of Music for Minors since 2010. “I feel so at home here,” says Wohlgemuth.

The cause: Music for Minors partners with elementary schools up and down the Peninsula to bring weekly lessons into the classroom — a place the arts belong but are seldom prioritized. Grade-school years “are the most formative,” she explains. “That’s where kids’ brains are sponges.”

Inspiration: What drives Wohlgemuth? “It’s that one moment you see that light bulb go on for one child — when the music immediately connects to them, their face changes, their body language changes, they become a little more confident, they stand upright a little bit more, and they realize that there is this voice inside of them that they didn’t know they had.”

Impact: Through cost-effective instrumental and choral programs, Music for Minors serves 25,000 kids a week in almost 70 schools across San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. It’s focused on sustainability over rapid growth. “We’re the type of organization that if you say, ‘Here’s the easy route or the hard route,’ we’re going to take the hard route because the impact will be greater,” Wohlgemuth says.

Budget: $1.6 million

Supporters: A network of individual donors along with major funders such as the Bill Graham Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, in addition to dedicated parent groups.

Get involved: “We need teachers,” Wohlgemuth emphasizes. Artists in need of work, and those looking to donate to Music for Minors, should contact her directly at [email protected] or visit mfm.org

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