Sandra Rizkallah is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of an organization called the Plugged In Band Program, an inclusive, unique nonprofit youth rock band program in the Boston area. After receiving her start at Emerson College, she produced documentaries and worked in the post-production departments of NOVA at WGBH. Eventually, she channeled her expertise and passion into providing music opportunities for young people throughout the suburbs of Boston. Along with Co-Founder Tom Pugh, Program Director Dan Croft, and a strong Board of Directors, Plugged In has positioned itself as an exciting niche for music learning and development.
Based in Needham, MA, the Plugged In Band Program is a dual-focused organization dedicated to giving young people a venue through which they can channel their creativity, learn to work in a group, and improve their music skills while learning about the value and importance of social activism. The motto of Plugged In centers on teaching young musicians ages 6-19 of all levels and needs about using music to create positive change in the world.
The program consists of weekly ensemble band classes, private lessons, youth board meetings, open mics, summer programs, songwriting workshops, adult band classes, and community performances. Five times a year, students perform in benefit concerts that raise funds for causes and organizations chosen by the students themselves. In a typical session, they have between 100-130 students participating in 40-50 bands.
In addition to the benefit concert series, Plugged In students perform at local venues, including the Needham Diversity Initiative’s Annual MLK Celebration, Fourth of July Parade, New Year’s Needham, Chamber of Commerce Street Fairs, and many other community events.
A Quick Pivot During a Pandemic
In March 2020, Plugged In had to close its building due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without skipping a beat, they began conducting all of their programs online within one day of closing their facility.
The Plugged In mission ensures that youth of any race, economic status, learning style, emotional or physical disability, and gender identity feel safe and have equal access to programming. Even as the programming transitioned to virtual, Plugged In ensured each child had the musical equipment at home they needed to participate in the virtual bands, lessons, and other programs. With our program using a virtual platform, we have students participating from other states and other countries.
Since they couldn’t do their usual in-person end-of-session concerts, their solution was a virtual concert with their bands’ pre-recorded performance videos. However, to stay true to their mission, they needed a recording and mixing technology that all devices could easily access.
“Thanks to Soundtrap and the creative commitment of staff and students, we produced an amazing four-night spring session concert. Following the spring, there were two summer concerts live-streamed on YouTube with audience participation through live chat and a Zoom cheering room,” said Sandra Rizkallah, Co-Founder and Executive Director. “In addition, Soundtrap enabled the Youth Board to record a song they wrote in response to the racial justice uprisings.”
Inspired by the results, Plugged In just completed the first session and started a second session of a Digital Audio Production Class using Soundtrap. Rizkallah remains thankful for Soundtrap in helping the program’s efforts to continue “rocking on” and bringing positive change in the world through music.
Musicians and Teachers
The teaching and learning process is a core value of Plugged in, and it transcends everything they do. Through low teacher-to-student ratios, each student gets a great deal of individual attention. Additionally, students teach and learn from each other – both in their own bands and from one band to another. They share information about charitable organizations that need help. Students learn about the great work that others are doing in their own community and around the world and try to figure out ways to make a difference.
A Place for Everyone
So many young people have no outlet for their enthusiasm and creative energy. Plugged In bands provide nurturing and support in an environment built on mutual respect and understanding. Their success is measured by how they do well, not how well they do.
Making a Difference in the World
It is impossible to separate Plugged In from the causes that they embrace. “The money we raise from their concerts goes directly to the charities they play for,” says Rizkallah. “In 2006, we raised enough money from our January concert to send our friend from Zimbabwe, Justice Makuni, to university for four years. After school, Justice plans to go back to his village and build a better future.”
How They Empower
- All students participating in Plugged In programming have the opportunity to participate in additional activities above and beyond their band class, private lesson, or workshop.
- Students participating in Plugged In can access many performance opportunities throughout the year, including our benefit concert series and local community performances.
- Through performances, students gain the confidence and learn the skills necessary to use their music to give back to the community. All students are also invited to participate in the Plugged In Youth Board.
- The Youth Board lets students have a say in important decisions being made by the organization, allowing them to help guide Plugged In’s development.