Teams of music makers, who promote artistry and collaboration in their city

Trenton, NJ   |


We bring children together in teams of music learners and makers, to develop their minds, imagination and community. We seek to honor and strengthen the promising elements already present in children's lives: the network of caring adults, and the desire to develop skills that open new doors for them. To this we add proven curricula, fine instruments, opportunities to travel beyond accustomed surroundings, and instruction at no cost to families, provided by professional teaching artists.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Ms. Carol Burden

Main address

Po Box 5206

Trenton, NJ 08638 USA

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NTEE code info

Youth Development Programs (O50)

Music (A68)

Intergroup/Race Relations (R30)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Trenton’s children live in a city marked by poverty, low parental educational attainment, English language deficiency, a strong gang presence, and an underperforming school system. 36% of children fall below the federal poverty level, with 93% of the children in TMM’s orchestra program qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Recent data indicates that 30% of the city’s high school students do not graduate; at the middle school that a majority of our students attend, an alarming 16.7% of students meet reading expectations, and 0% are even approaching expectations in math (NJ Dept. of Education). In Trenton, only two elementary schools offer string instruction, and this for 40 minutes per week at best. None of the middle schools have string orchestras, and at Trenton Central High School, the large, thriving TCHS Orchestra is dominated by brass, winds and percussion, playing in the keys of B-flat and others that are particularly challenging for the already-overmatched string players.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Trenton Music Makers Orchestra

Our El Sistema-inspired after-school Orchestra Program serves students in Grades 2-12, meeting September-June for 3-4 days per week after school for two hours per day, and for four weeks of summer camp in July. Each day includes a hot meal, a challenging orchestra rehearsal, and supportive instrument instruction. A biweekly leadership theme, such as accountability, positive connections, or respect, is woven through the curriculum and reinforced by all staff. We provide each participant with a string instrument for the year, to play and take home for practicing. Orchestra students perform in public, typically 5x per year. More experienced students become Section Leaders, taking on a role of supporting beginners; together they build collaboration skills and peer leadership, and learn the value of a shared struggle.

Population(s) Served
At-risk youth
Economically disadvantaged people

Since 2000, this program has served Trenton’s pre-K children, their teachers and families, not only by creating joyful and interesting first musical experiences for the children, but by weaving music and movement into the fabric of the preschool day. In 2011 we piloted our first Intergenerational Music for the Very Young, in partnership with the Trenton Office on Aging. In the years since then, preschool children have shared their music class with the members of senior centers throughout the community. Not only have the children built warm and affectionate music-making relationships with seniors, but the senior centers have reported dramatically higher participation rates on the days that the children are expected.

Population(s) Served
Infants and toddlers
Economically disadvantaged people

Where we work

Affiliations & memberships

El Sistema USA - PRESTO Cohort 2020

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Musical – to provide children with music education in an ensemble-based, collaborative environment, with a long-term goal of developing a symphonic orchestra in which children from across Trenton develop advanced skill on their instruments, on par or surpassing the skill level of their suburban counterparts.

Social – to support the development of positive and healthy relationships among children, and between children and their teachers. Through a shared, ambitious pursuit of musical excellence, children develop peer interactive skills and an enhanced ability to listen and adjust their own contributions to those around them. As a result, they simultaneously develop closer bonds and empowered leadership skills. As children learn to create literal harmony in their orchestral setting, they develop peacemaking skills as they grow, that empower them to create broader harmony in their schools and communities. In the long term, we seek to contribute to a reduction in youth violence.

Academic – to change children’s lives by including them in an atmosphere of opportunity to help them achieve their fullest potential through both music and academics. Music-making provides a touch point for hard work that leads to success, which can be generalized in a child’s experience. The cycle of ambitious pursuit, and shared achievement, lays a pathway for striving in all things, with an expectation of success. We seek to contribute to improved attendance rates, and over time, improved graduation rates.

Our programs are inspired by El Sistema, the internationally-renowned movement that originated in Venezuela in the mid-1970’s and which has grown to serve millions of low-income children worldwide. The vision of El Sistema, as articulated by El Sistema USA, is “to provide music education to underserved youth, developing the essential life skills and habits of mind they need to lead successful lives.” El Sistema-inspired programs have been demonstrated to accelerate social-emotional learning, to support the development of executive functioning, improve school performance, and reduce involvement with the juvenile justice system. In Trenton Music Makers, we provide students with engaging, creative ways to build skills, and to take part in a pro-social community, while avoiding the dangers on their streets during hours when they could otherwise be unoccupied. We remove economic and logistical barriers by providing instruction and instruments free of charge, and by transporting students from their schools to our central program site.

Our preschool program, “Music for the Very Young: Music, Movement and Literacy,” provides joyful and interesting music instruction for some 500 children each year. The program weaves music and movement into the fabric of the preschool day, trains preschool teachers in creating a musical classroom, and engages children's families in their learning.

Our pre-orchestra program for kindergarteners and first graders brings children and parents together after school twice a week for expanded music-making, melodic, harmonic and rhythmic activities, and beginning violin instruction.

Our orchestra program for students in second through twelve grades takes place four days per week in one central site, playing daily as an orchestra. Small studio classes provide mentorship and skill development; percussion and choir support musicianship; improvisation and collective composition amplify youth voice. We strongly emphasize democratized teaching, in which every skill learned provides a peer teaching opportunity. Our students collaborate at least twice a year with students from peer programs; travel to other parts of the region also serves to expand their awareness of the musical community of which they are a part. Our intensive approach leads to rapid mastery, surpassing expectations from the community and from our students themselves, and further energizes their continuing hard work.

Through ensemble music participation, students gain a clear sense of their rightful role as an asset to their community, rather than a burden on their teachers and parents. Striving and achieving become a cycle, and students discover how much fun can be had while working hard.

Since our founding in 1998, we have fostered fair educational opportunities for Trenton’s students by supplementing the educational attainment gap between urban and suburban students. Trenton Music Makers’ Executive and Artistic Directors have a combined thirty-eight years of experience in supporting young people’s development by providing high-quality music education and performance opportunities. Our diverse team of teaching artists includes master teachers, young and dedicated college graduates, freelance musicians, and public-school music teachers. Their various strengths are a winning combination – one that serves children’s musical and social development in an unparalleled manner.

Our curriculum draws from the best practices in music education, including the Music Together early childhood program, Suzuki-influenced instruction, trusted string methods, El Sistema-inspired practices of orchestral culture, and collective composition.
We are active participants in global music education networks, including El Sistema USA, the Carnegie Hall Weill Institute, YOLA National, El Sistema Global, the American String Teachers Association, and the El Sistema NJ Alliance; through these communities we continually refresh our knowledge of best education and business practices, and our teaching artists receive regular professional development in musical, social-emotional, culturally-responsive education.

Locally, we are fortunate to work in partnership with the Capital Area YMCA to provide affordable school bus transportation, and also as partners in the YMCA Adult and Child Food Access program, to provide a daily hot meal for every child in our orchestra. Together with GetSet, the literary afterschool program with whom we share space at Westminster Presbyterian Church, we share access to college students who provide tutoring services.

In addition to a wide circle of generous individuals, corporate and family foundations, we are grateful for key funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the El Sistema USA PRESTO program, Carnegie Hall, the George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation, the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation, and essential in-kind support from JE Banks String Instruments and Russo Music.

Research confirms that, in addition to its intrinsic value, music education also enhances other learning, particularly interpersonal synchrony, reading readiness, a reduction in toxic stress levels, and neuroplasticity and language development, especially in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Department of Ed reported in its recent study that access to high-quality arts programs resulted in a 75% closing of the language arts achievement gap between high and low socio-economic groups. The Department of Labor reported during the same period that the percentage of low-income students with high-quality arts programs who graduated from high school – 96% – exceeded the nationwide high school graduation rate, across all income levels.

Trenton Music Makers has been a significant force in community making since its founding in 1998 as Trenton Community Music School. Our early years were dedicated to providing affordable private lessons, on a wide range of instruments. We accomplished this in partnership with Trenton churches, schools, and other community organizations, and by subsidizing the lesson costs with the support of foundations, corporations and individuals.

Then in the wake of the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings, which brought universal Pre-K to Trenton, we originated "Music for the Very Young," in collaboration with Trenton Public Schools’ Office of Early Childhood Programs, with its first site at the Puerto Rican Community Day Care Center. Having directly experienced the success of ensemble music making, through this and other community-based projects, in 2015 we committed to an ensemble model. At that time we partnered with the Trenton Public Schools to launch the Trenton Music Makers Orchestra, with 30 children in the third and fourth grades. Now with twenty years since our founding, we engage over 500 preschool families, and 100 grade-school students, per year.

Recent evaluations give us reason to be very optimistic: Parent and student surveys of social-emotional learning compiled from 2016-2019 indicate that 83% of participants show marked improvements in confidence, perseverance, capacity to take risks, creative expression, teamwork, and/or peer relations. 91% of teachers over the same time period reported academic benefits, including our students’ improved ability to complete a task, critical thinking skills, school attendance, homework completion, and/or attitude toward learning. 2018-19 data indicated high retention and attendance rates among children in our program. We found that 92% of children remained in the program for the full year, and of these, 97% performed in at least two public performances. Although we were unable to obtain attendance data from their school district, the previous year we had been pleased to learn that our elementary students achieved an average in-school attendance rate of 96%.



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Board of directors
as of 12/13/2020
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Julian Grant

Composer, writer, educator, music journalist and broadcaster

Term: 2016 - 2022

Edward Dippold

Raymond James

Fred Scampato

Law Office of Fred Shahrooz Scampato

Phyllis Tsai

BCG Securities

Alison Denis

Morgan Stanley

John Hart

Isles, Inc.

Anthony Mack

Rutgers University

Anne Trevisan

JP Morgan Asset Management

Lytisha Williams

Rutgers University

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? No
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? No
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? No
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? No
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 05/18/2020

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Decline to state
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


Equity strategies

Last updated: 05/18/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We have a promotion process that anticipates and mitigates implicit and explicit biases about people of color serving in leadership positions.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.