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NB|AZ and Phoenix nonprofit
fosters a relationship that hits
all the right notes
SOUNDS Academy founder and CEO Kirk Johnson’s lifelong love of music began when he was 5, learning to play the violin and viola in the Project STEP program in Boston. As he gained experience in music theory, chamber music, and orchestras, his journey included touring internationally with the Preparatory School of New England Conservatory and eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance and a MEd from Indiana University, where he participated in the IU String Academy.
After graduating, Johnson cultivated a passion for music in the next generation by teaching in public schools and conducting youth orchestras. When his career path brought him to Phoenix, he found that music opportunities were not uniformly available in different school districts.
“I’ve always been involved in starting music programs and teaching students,” he says. “In Arizona, there weren’t a lot of examples like I’d seen on the East Coast and Midwest. I knew what needed to happen and started putting together the resources.”
In 2014, Johnson launched SOUNDS Academy as a nonprofit music education program designed to spread opportunities throughout Arizona by removing financial and other barriers. The academy includes four main initiatives: the Musical Access Program exposes children to live music and hands-on experiences through Instrument Petting Zoos; the School Programs teach students the fundamentals of performance on instruments, either during or after school; the SOLO Program focuses on one-on-one lessons; and the Collective is a higher-level ensemble that includes advanced instruction, music theory, and learning how to write music.
SOUNDS has grown to 4,300 students a year in 13 different schools and community centers. Ultimately, the music is a means to a bigger end.
Johnson’s relationship with National Bank of Arizona started early in the SOUNDS venture. “I’m a person who likes to do the research before I get involved,” he says. “When I looked at what banks other nonprofits were using and who they were happy with, I heard about Pamela Keefe [National Bank of Arizona Vice President, Nonprofit Relationship Manager] and met with her immediately.”
Johnson describes the process of working with National Bank of Arizona as being “set up for success,” as far as banking options and personalized customer service.
“It’s also been about connecting us to opportunities, whether it’s people we can partner with or events like Taste of the Biltmore,” he says. “When you see events like that, you start to envision how you could create something similar to support your own organization.”
Navigating the Paycheck Protection Program* (PPP) was another area where National Bank of Arizona excelled. “There were a lot of unknowns, and Pamela always does a great job of getting ahead of the unknowns,” Johnson says. “That was important when I had to answer my board’s questions about our plans.”
“Kirk’s organization is just phenomenal, starting as a grassroots organization and evolving into such a great platform for underprivileged kids,” says Keefe, who will celebrate 19 years with NB|AZ this year and helped launch its nonprofit group 12 years ago. The group now banks 2,500 to 2,800 nonprofit organizations throughout the state.
“With SOUNDS and all of our nonprofit clients, our goal is to keep them front and center,” Keefe says. “I don’t know any bank that has better marketing opportunities or relationships, and connections in the community. We’re always trying to figure out ways that we can give back, and our marketing department has created channels to advocate for our nonprofit clients, such as Elevate AZ and Arizona Business Today. It’s nice to be able to offer those types of opportunities, because you just never know who is going to be listening on the other end.”
*See a banker for details. Loans subject to SBA approval. Restrictions apply.