The following is a transcript of the latest Monster Riff Presents podcast episode, an interview with Fostering Music founder Christy Stitt. In support of this episode and Fostering Music, Monster Riff sponsored a fundraiser to help two foster boys receive an electronic drum kit. We have surpassed our goal of $400! If you’d still like to donate to this campaign directly, you can do so here. If you’d like to donate to Fostering Music in general, please visit its donate page.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an incredible nonprofit in western Pennsylvania called Fostering Music. Fostering Music, I learned, is an organization that helps kids in the foster care system—kids who have experienced loss and trauma—access instruments and music lessons.
I thought that was awesome. As much as we write about the best bands and gear, we ultimately come to music for very simple reasons: The community. The emotional power. The creative outlet.
Being able to gift that to someone is incredible.
I immediately wanted to support Fostering Music in a way beyond a single donation, so I reached out to the organization’s founder, Christy Stitt. In addition to agreeing to appear in a Monster Riff episode, Christy also allowed Monster Riff to sponsor a fundraiser to help raise $400 for an electronic drum kit for two foster boys in the same home. (You can check out that fundraiser here.)
Well, you’re all awesome. We raised that money—and a little extra—in less than 24 hours.
Thank you to everyone who contributed!
Christy’s episode is finally ready to listen to, thanks to James Seabrook of Two Bodies Of Water Productions kindly donating his time to clean up the audio and make it presentable. You can listen here:
The Interview With Fostering Music Founder Christy Stitt
Patrick Schober: To start off, what kind of music are you into? I have a feeling you’re not really into the underground Rock and Metal scenes.
Christy Stitt: Interestingly, when I was college age, I was really into early ‘80s alternative stuff. But I now have children and I’m often driving my youngest child, my son, to all of his music lessons, which greatly influenced my musical tastes. He insisted on listening to what he wanted to listen to. And oddly enough, at that time he was 15, 16, 17, and he had this huge variety of music he loved.
Of course, as a drummer, he loves Rush, just because he loves the technicality of Neil Peart, which is the standard for drummers. But he also loves—and this band really has a place in my heart, too—Tower of Power, a ‘70s Funk band out of California. We took him to see them live a couple of times, and their live shows are amazing. The staying power that the band has is just phenomenal.
I guess kids do this to you, but he completely expanded the kinds of music I listen to. And he’s constantly coming home and saying, “Hey, have you listened to this group?”
Actually, he gives lessons to the two kids we’re trying to raise money for, and he exposes them to stuff as well. He’ll come home like, “They don’t know who The Jackson 5 is!”
Another thing he’s done is make me appreciate all kinds of music for the musicality of it—and the musicianship and how tight the band is and things I didn’t really think about before having a musician in the family. Now I have an appreciation for all of it. I can find some really great stuff and I listen to just about anything you can listen to.
Patrick Schober: I think I’ve talked about this on the show before, but one of the things that Monster Riff has done is help me appreciate music for music’s sake. As I got deeper into this space, I came to terms with the fact that I am really into a genre that not a lot of people like. And that’s OK. Because who am I to discredit anyone else’s music tastes? And through that process, I’ve learned to put my guard down when experiencing new music that’s generally outside of my comfort zone. And that’s just helped me have a broader mind.
Christy Stitt: Yeah, I would say one thing: Luke went through a Jazz phase, so he took lessons and actually went to college for Jazz for a while—and I never thought I liked Jazz. But I totally appreciate the talent that these musicians have. Because it’s not music that’s written out when they get up there and perform. They are completely improvising the entire time. And it’s phenomenal to watch, knowing that they’re not just playing from memory and they’re totally improvising what they do. So, I think it’s knowing the talent that somebody has and the practice and hard work they put into it. You have an appreciation for it.
Patrick Schober: And it’s that little bit of context that’s so important, right? Just knowing that everything is going to be improvised allows you to let them make mistakes, and it also lets you go on the journey that they take you on. Sometimes all you’re missing is that little bit of context that can really help in helping your overall appreciation for something.
Do you have a music background? Did you grow up playing instruments?
Christy Stitt: No, I’ve never played, and apparently I cannot sing, or so my husband tells me. My first involvement in music was through my kids. They were all in concert band and marching band. Of course, Luke, the drummer, has influenced me. My middle child actually sings in a Classic Rock cover band. My immersion into music was through my children. So, I guess sometimes you find more passion about something when you’re enabling them to do what they love. And that’s probably part of the reason I started Fostering Music—to help other kids.
Patrick Schober: I definitely want to dig more into the Fostering Music origins in a moment. Last question on you and your kids: As they’ve brought home more and more instruments home, have you ever been tempted to pick up the drumsticks or something else to play along?
Christy Stitt: Oh, definitely not drums. I am not coordinated. I have thought about guitar. If my full-time job and my full-time passion with Fostering Music ever allows me a little bit of spare time, I think I might. I think just learning music, reading music, and playing music just activates parts of the brain that no other activity does. And I see the benefits. I think it would be fantastic to try to pick up the guitar and learn some basic stuff. Maybe I could play with my son and daughter someday; that’d be cool.
Starting Fostering Music
Patrick Schober: Yeah! Let’s talk about Fostering Music and how you started it. It’s interesting that somebody who doesn’t identify as a musician has started something that is built to help other people become musicians.
Christy Stitt: For backstory, my son Luke is passionate about drums. He started when he was 10, and all he’s ever wanted to do is be behind the drums. I just watched him play yesterday. He’s 22 now, but he’s constantly tapping or pounding—he’s always got a beat going like the drums are there. The percussion is always there in his life. It was his thing as a kid that he excelled at and the thing that really brought him confidence as a person and something he could be proud of.
I had a thought a few times while driving him to private lessons—because you can’t get drum kit lessons in the public education system right now. I mean, he did percussion with concert band and all that. But I thought there must be a lot of children out there that maybe music is their thing and they would love and it would allow them to express themselves, but they have no avenue to pursue it. And we were lucky that we have the means that we were able to help him realize his passion and help him get better at it.
At the same time, I have family members who work in and volunteer with the foster care system. So, in 2018, I wanted to see if there was anything here. As a family, we said we were going to give guitars to kids who were interested in learning the guitar—for Christmas. And we bought three guitar starter kits. My mom had worked with the Westmoreland County CASA agency, and she put the word out to them to say, “Hey, my daughter wants to give these guitars away. Do you have any kids that are interested?”
And they came back with a demand for 10 guitars.
I was like, “Wow! There are all of these kids out there who want to play, but they just don’t have the instruments. They don’t have the access to lessons.” That was really the momentum when all of the synapses connected and I thought that if I could make this happen for at least some kids, we could make a difference.
Patrick Schober: What are the logistics of:
1. Actually getting someone an instrument?
2. Getting someone lessons, which I imagine would be even more complicated?
Christy Stitt: We started growing organically. Actually, the shop where my kids took lessons is in Kittanning, PA, and we became really good friends with the owner. I approached him and said, “Hey, if I’m going to start this in our county, which is Armstrong County, and if I get kids and their parents can get them here, can your instructors give them lessons? I’ll just pay you—the parents have nothing to do with the payments at all. They just show up with the kids and the kids get the lessons.”
There’s then an added benefit that we’re supporting local businesses as well. And those instructors are musicians as well, and they’re trying to make a living doing what they love. So, it has a little bit of a side benefit there.
We started out there with two kids, and it worked well. So, we kind of used that experience as a model. And anytime we get a new kid, if they’re in an area where we don’t already have a music store connection, we will do our due diligence to find a music store or someplace that gives lessons and has a good reputation. I’ll reach out to them, and then I work out all the financial aspects of it.
And then I essentially hand it off to the parents and let them schedule the times that work for them to get the kids there. There were one or two situations where we’ve had older kids, like late teens, in the Pittsburgh area who were able to take the bus wherever they go, so they could get there by themselves.
Patrick Schober: And this all started in Armstrong County, right? Pittsburgh proper would be Allegheny County, so how many counties are you currently in?
Christy Stitt: We have served kids in six different counties: Armstrong, Allegheny, Butler, Westmoreland, Washington, and Mercer so far.
Patrick Schober: For people who aren’t great with geography or who are unfamiliar with the state, that’s a huge chunk of western Pennsylvania.
Off the top of your head, do you know how many kids you’ve worked with so far?
Christy Stitt: It’s between 30 and 40. If I had to guess, I’d say 35.
Patrick Schober: Incredible. And when someone comes in, do they typically stick around for a few years?
Christy Stitt: Yes, as long as they’re taking lessons. Honestly, we still have our very first kid. He takes drum lessons, and he’s been around for over three years. He actually was so excited last year that he finally got to perform. My son and daughter have this Classic Rock cover band, and Caleb learned a song and played it our last fundraiser with my kid’s band. He was so excited. It just made his year. I think he’s already messaged and asked if he can play with them again this year. Such a sweet kid.
Patrick Schober: What has watching Caleb’s progression over the last three years been like for you?
Christy Stitt: It’s really cool in a lot of different aspects. He was the sweetest kid coming in the door, very respectful, very thankful for getting lessons. And, of course, he was pretty young—he was only nine when he started, I believe. And so he started out on just a snare drum or something. And as time would go by, it was interesting to watch, because not only did he expand as a drummer, but I also got reports from his mom that his school band teacher said how much better he was doing, because everything he was learning in the private lessons was translating into concert band as well. So he was doing better there. And she also told me about how good his relationship was with the drum instructor. And, I mean, I know this drum instructor—he’s a great guy, he’s great with the kids—but I never really thought about the benefit of the kids having another stable adult in their lives. This is somebody they see once a week that they talk to and they can count on when they don’t have a lot of stability and a lot of role models that they can look up to. So it’s been really cool to watch his and Mike’s relationship grow too.
Favorite Moments in Fostering Music
Patrick Schober: What have been some of your favorite moments? For example, as I was prepping for this episode, I found an awesome video on Facebook of one child being gifted a drum kit in the studio, and he was speechless for the entire video. It was really cool to see that.
But having been on the frontlines of this operation, are there any moments that stick out to you over the last few years?
Christ Stitt: In the video you’re talking about, that’s actually Caleb, our first kid. Like I said, he started out on just a snare drum or a practice pad for a while. One day, I went into the shop to talk to his instructor. While I was there, he was like, “I think Caleb is ready for a drum set. And it just so happened that somebody stopped by and they have one they want to donate.”
We got it all worked out. I talked to his parents ahead of time to make sure they were OK with a five-piece drum kit in their house. That whole experience, I think, just made his year—if not his entire decade. He was so surprised. That was a really cool evening.
There have been a couple of other moments, and the one that really sticks out is when we had a request for a senior in high school. She had been placed in foster care, and she had played in concert band from the time she was in fourth grade. And she was in the marching band and she was a part of that high school band community. They’re a very, very good community of kids.
And when she got placed in foster care, apparently her parents had sold her trumpet—for whatever purpose. Their local CYS messaged me, and we actually had one on hand.
So, the really cool thing for me was that I took my husband along for the drop-off. And this was in the early days of Fostering Music, and I don’t think he was totally sold on the whole thing at that point. So, we take this trumpet to her home, and I give it to her. And she’s in tears. She opens it up and she immediately starts playing. And she’s just like, “This is the nicest trumpet I’ve ever had my hands on.” She was just so overwhelmed at that moment.
And when we left, my husband’s like, “I get it. Now I get why you want to do this. I see the impact this is going to have on these kids and how it’s going to change their lives, at least in this moment.”
She was then able to do marching band her senior year and perform concerts. We were able to help her do that.
The Summer Concert
Patrick Schober: That’s such a beautiful story. You also have a summer concert, right?
Christy Stitt: We just started it last year because, prior to that, we were kind of small. We did one in January we call the January Jam. We had one at Jergel’s one year, and we had one locally here in Armstrong County one year, just testing out the waters, and then COVID hit and we realized we had to do something else, because that put the kibosh on having indoor concerts in January.
So we found this venue called Paradise Park. It’s in Cowansville, PA, in the middle of nowhere. It’s a beautiful location and it has a ton of crazy music history. It’s been around forever. They have the stage, they have back dressing rooms, they have a covered area that seats 2,500 people, so you’re covered rain or shine, whatever the weather is.
In June, when our event goes on, I didn’t want to have anyone exposed to the weather and have awful weather ruin months of planning. And it just it worked out perfectly.
And they’re actually a nonprofit themselves. Paradise Park used to be a huge venue for country music. I’m trying to remember some of the names that have played there… Tammy Wynett, Merle Haggard… These pretty big country names would come and play at the park in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. And then it kind of fell into disrepair for a while. And then in the early 2000s, between 2000 and 2010, this couple came in and bought the property and they have been restoring it since. And it’s a nonprofit itself. They have a Rib Fest every year. They’ll host other kinds of events and everything. But it’s phenomenal that they’ve put all of their time and energy into getting this really cool venue back on its feet and available for live music. It was a really good connection to make with those guys.
Patrick Schober: So, if anybody comes to the show this year, what can they expect? What kind of music will they hear? Will there be any sort of other vendors there?
Christy Stitt: We’re still opening up to vendors. My feeling is that everybody’s kind of having a tough time economically, so we’re open to any kind of vendor who wants to come out and set up a tent. I would like to have a few tents for some other nonprofits, too. I know there are a couple of other local nonprofits here that support foster kids and other near and dear causes. And I’m open to them coming and providing some information about their causes.
One thing that surprised me last year: The venue itself has a concession stand with the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had. These are phenomenal.
The stage is huge. Fat Lipp Productions comes in and does the sound for us. They do a fantastic job. Everybody sounded great last year. And it’s kind of a range of music, to be honest. We have a Blues band that has performed for us every year. We have some Classic Rock cover bands. We have some acoustic acts that really focus on the vocalists. There’s a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life.
The band that opens up Saturday morning is called the Applewold Ramble Band. They’re very local, and they do folksy kind of stuff. It’s kind of an easy way to start at 11:00 AM Saturday. The main guy, the founder of Applewold Ramble Band, he’s a good friend and our kids were in the band together. He was the one to help me come up with the name for Fostering Music. I had the idea. I was like, “I want to provide music lessons to kids in the foster care system.” And Damon helped come up with the actual name for it. And he’s been a great financial supporter.
But, yeah, it’s a fun day for live music. Like I said, Caleb played last year, and Caleb will play this year again. All of our kids will have the opportunity to play and I’m hoping a couple more will come out and either play with a band or by themselves between sets. It’s a fun time.
Ways to Support Fostering Music
Patrick Schober: That’s coming up in June. And we have this fundraiser running right now, for the electronic drum kit.
If people are interested, what are some other ways they can contribute to Fostering Music?
Christy Stitt: Some of my favorite people are our regular monthly donors. We have a handful of people who set up monthly donations on their credit card, and then it’s income I can count on every month. So, for example, my monthly budget for lessons is $1,000, and $250 of that is covered by people who do automatic monthly donations. That’s something I can count on.
We do take instrument donations as well. We have some drum sets, we have guitars—we have a stockpile of them at Smail’s Custom Drum Shop. He keeps my inventory for me and he refurbishes stuff when we need it.
That’s another way people can contribute—if you have an instrument lying around, that you’re not doing anything with, you can consider donating. We can give you a tax receipt for it so it’s deducted. And we’ll get it into the hands of a kid that that really wants to play.
For this specific fundraiser, we’re raising money for the drum kit for two brothers in the same house. Our instructor visits them to give lessons, and they’re both awesome.
And we’re always looking for volunteers, especially for when we have events. We’re always looking for people to join our crew.
Patrick Schober: What I love about the Fostering Music Donate page is you’ve actually broken out how much your contribution will help people. $25 pays for a lesson. $100 pays for a month of lessons. $200 pays for an acoustic guitar or a violin, which seems like a great price for a violin. The list goes on.
Christy Stitt: Our violin instructor sent me to this company that does really good quality violins, but they’re not expensive. And they have a trade-in program too. So, one of our kids taking violin lessons is only four, but as he grows into a new violin, we can send back the old one, and it’ll give us credit for that toward a new one. So, I’m only incrementally paying. To be honest, I don’t always know how many of these kids are going to stick with the lessons. Our philosophy is if they stick with it, and they need a more advanced instrument, at that point we’ll give them a more advanced instrument. But we generally start them out on things that are not quite as expensive as a high-quality, professional grade instrument. We actually had a professional trumpet donated once!
Patrick Schober: Yes, I think you told me about that! The last time we connected, you mentioned you got it appraised and it was worth thousands of dollars.
Christy Stitt: Yeah, the guy appraising it was like, “Oh, my God, this is an amazing trumpet!” I was like, “I’m not giving this to a fourth grader!” I sold it and paid for my monthly lesson budget for two months with one trumpet.
Learn More About Fostering Music
Patrick Schober: If people want to learn more about Fostering Music, what’s the best way to learn more?
Christy Stitt: We have the website, which is just https://fosteringmusic.com/. There’s a lot of background information on there about who we are, what we do, and what our mission is. We have an event section on there, which I need to update with the new event this year. And it gives you a link to donate.
If you want to see a lot of the day-to-day stuff and videos of our kids, there’s a lot of that on the Fostering Music Facebook page.