Sector: Arts & Culture
For Lucas Coffey, music is more than just sound. It’s a collection of voices, beats and instruments, coming together to create intricate and beautiful harmonies. It’s also a powerful tool to bring people together.
“What’s really remarkable about music is the way that people can all add their own individual rhythm to a collective orchestra,” he says. “It’s a chance for each of us to come together and build something bigger than ourselves.” That’s the real purpose behind Coffey’s drumming workshops.
Coffey’s interest in community building dates back more than a decade, when a close friend began holding bake sales to raise funds for an international volunteering project. Her patience and persistence inspired Coffey. He wanted to find a way to help others like his friend raise funds and create positive social change.
So in 2009, Coffey created the Music is A Weapon Community Building Society. At first, the Society’s scope was broad, working to support other social causes by providing bike-powered electricity for concerts and rallies, and running occasional drum circle workshops in schools across the city. Drum circles, an activity he’d first been introduced to while in university, were a powerful way to encourage connections and strengthen relationships. Coffey began offering in-school workshops for elementary students, and was impressed with the increases in social skills and self-confidence he often saw.
“We started out with fundraising events for different causes and non-profits, but eventually we started going to festivals and schools, and started getting more exposure as we did more workshops,” he says. “As we did, I started to see music as a really valuable way to empower kids.”
As his aptitude for managing a classroom grew more evident, Coffey began to focus more exclusively on the workshops. He founded Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm, a social enterprise focused on bringing drumming programs into schools, and was eager to expand the business. But more students meant more drums would be needed. And more drums would require capital, a scarce commodity in the early days of Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm’s operations.
Fortunately, Coffey learned of a business plan pitch competition offered by SEF to support social enterprises in Edmonton. He excitedly drafted a business plan and submitted an application. But his hopes were soon to be dashed.
“In hindsight, that plan was all over the place,” he laughs. “Thankfully, SEF was up front and honest about it. It was a bit hard to hear at the time, but now I know it really helped me hone in on what was driving Music is A Weapon forward.”
Determined, Coffey returned to the drawing board, refining the organization’s vision along the way. He returned to SEF with a more workable plan and was awarded financing for instruments that would be critical to Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm’s future growth: additional drumming supplies and a vehicle.
SEF’s support arrived just in time, it seems. Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm’s in-school residency exploded in popularity, selling out more than a year in advance.
“It’s been a game changer for me. Before SEF, I felt like the schools were in the driver’s seat and I was just along for the ride. But now I have room to keep developing new programs,” he says. “When we started, we just wanted to drive social change. As we’ve developed, it’s become about teaching students how to play live music and develop relationships, both with the music and with each other.”
Thanks to the support of SEF, Coffey was able expand Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm from offering only in-school residencies to offering online teacher training as well. And based on the organization’s success to date, it seems likely that this beat will go on.
Entrepreneurs, and in particular social entrepreneurs are usually moving pretty fast.