Pin It

Phillip Christopher on Playing for Change Day 

You may have seen Phillip Christopher - AKA Philadelphia Phil -playing with one of his bands around town over the years. What you might not have seen is the work he does when he trades his instrument for a MacBook and organizes Playing for Change Day Indianapolis. The event brings musicians from around the country to play on the street to raise money for the Playing for Change Foundation. I sat down with Phil to get the lowdown on the event.

How does Playing for Change Day work?

Phillip: All of the money that gets donated goes to the Playing for Change Foundation. Then the Foundation takes that money and they've opened nine music schools around the world. They're in places where a parent has to choose between maybe food and a music education.

This money goes so far - in these places a music teacher only costs $1,500 a year salary. If 100 people donate $15, we've hired a school teacher in Nepal. With $50 we can get a playable guitar for a school in South Africa to preserve the Zulu tradition. Our goal this year is $5,000; it's the most they'll let you set. And every penny goes to the Foundation, and they run those 9 schools with 22 people (and some interns).

How did you get involved with Playing for Change?

Phillip: I saw the original video in 2009, and I was struck. In that few minutes, they summed up every reason that I personally started playing music.

As musicians, we get to play and get the music to people. We'd be playing anyway, but this way we get to help people. I do acoustic meet ups, and when we learned about the Playing for Change Day, we put it together in three weeks. And we've been doing it every year since.

Street music is a big part of his year's event, why is that?

Phillip: One of the reasons I got so excited about Playing for Change was that they were involved in that organic, street-level of music. They went out and found these great musicians. I have had that experience, in like New Orleans, where you'll walk down the street and just see great musicians.

One of our missions is to bring musicians who are accustomed to playing behind that invisible wall of the stage, out to the street, to the people. And also to start to condition the people of this city to understand that everyone is deserving of their respect. A musician on the street is not someone to be afraid of.

Why do you think experiencing music that way is getting more popular?

Phillip: Music on the street is becoming very glamorous with millenials now because I think young people are looking for a more authentic music than they're getting from the air waves and the internet. 

Why don't we see more of that kind of street performance in Indianapolis?

Phillip: Yeah, we don't do it very much, and because of that musicians are uncomfortable with their audiences. Audiences are uncomfortable with musicians, and we're all uncomfortable with people on the street who aren't on their way to work or shopping. As a result it makes that consciousness of music being a community thing very difficult.

If Indianapolis wants to be a real, international music city, it has to have that indigenous street culture. Busking is about making yourself available freely to people without pretentions. We have to break down a lot of shyness and separation - fear - that's endemic.

You've got a lot performers coming from out of town, what's the draw?

Phillip: Play for Change Indianapolis is so watched by Playing for Change at the national level. We're sort of putting Indianapolis on the map that way. The musicians who come and play for us consider it a great honor to get to play for us.

Why are you raising money for music education instead of, say, helping feed people?

Phillip: People who think we should just buy food instead of helping spread music are saying "we're so content in our affluence that these people should have no joy." They think people should be happy with whatever crumbs we send, and have no joy in their communities.

Music isn't a luxury. Self-expression isn't a luxury. The creativity that a culture needs in order to thrive in the 21st century isn't a luxury. I think if we had more of those kinds of outreaches - creativity, harmony - music brings people together.

How can our readers help with Playing for Change?

Phillip: Well you can always make out a check payable to Playing for Change. You can also go to the website and donate there. We're always looking for volunteers, even for this year, so if you're interested feel free to contact us. We're still looking for sponsors for this year's event - we'll send a group to play for you in return for your donation.

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

  • Wolf Like Me

    On the heels of releasing the band's first album, Neon Debris, and playing a packed record-release show in Fountain Square, Adam Gross of Indy Psych/Pop outfit S.M. Wolf chats with Ben.
    • Nov 18, 2015
  • Ghosts of Tonic

    After more than two decades playing in local bands, members of There Are Ghosts will bring their original sound to this year’s Tonic Ball.
    • Nov 4, 2015
  • Little Makers

    Ben and his son discover an odyssey of art and music at the Murphy Arts Center’s Little Makers event.
    • Oct 7, 2015
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

About The Author



WFYI brings you the power to learn. We are your community connection to people, places and events -- to education, information and knowledge. As a trusted catalyst for lifelong learning, WFYI public media engages and enriches our community through distinctive programs and services.

About The Author

Mike Potter

Mike Potter

Production Editor Mike Potter is a big fan of magazines. When he isn't designing, photographing, writing or developing, he likes to try formulating a better author bio.

More by WFYI

  • 2015 INDY International Festival

    Experience a world of cultural celebrations under one roof during the INDY International Festival at Indiana State Fairgrounds beginning Thursday.
    • Nov 4, 2015
  • Faking it

    Comedians pose as authors to read excerpts from their fictional books during An Evening With The Authors* Tuesday at the White Rabbit Cabaret.
    • Nov 2, 2015
  • More »

More by Mike Potter

  • Don't Wanna Miss An American Idiot

    The Phoenix Theatre brings the musical adaptation of Green Day's multi-platinum album to life in the two-time Tony Award-winning musical.
    • Jun 9, 2015
  • Turn Your Head and Laugh

    Purdue graduate Jon Spelman returns to Indiana to share his story of masculinity in the face of prostate cancer.
    • Jan 9, 2015
  • Gaming without Guilt

    Ditch Angry Birds and the like for some of today's more cerebral selections that blur the line between video games and art.
    • Dec 25, 2014
  • More »

Latest in Community

  • Curating Songs from the Outside-In

    Local deejay, writer, concert promoter and artist Kyle Long lends his world music background to the musical lineup at next week’s TEDxIndianapolis event.
    • Oct 16, 2014
  • Come Up And Sit a Spell

    The city of Carmel plans to throw a big, old-fashioned porch party this Sunday, with its entire Arts & Design District and 20 different residential porches as the setting.
    • Sep 13, 2014
  • Envisioning Indy as the Place to Be

    A force of nature and fount of knowledge, one visiting architect and designer for We Are City considers the potential and logistics of just all this city can actually be.
    • Aug 18, 2014
  • More »
© 2015 CICF
Privacy Policy
Contact Us:
P: 317.634.2423   F: 317.684.0943
Central Indiana Community Foundation
615 N. Alabama St. #119
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-1431
Sky Blue Window is presented by:

Website powered by Foundation