When Bryce Hansen began playing the piano, he found that the instrument helped to express himself more.
In 2020, Hansen, a Dana Point resident, bought a keyboard and started familiarizing himself with the new instrument.
“I wasn’t in the best place in my life, and I was just really enjoying it, kept playing around on it, figuring it out on my own, which I love to do with everything,” Hansen said. “It just became a passion of mine, and I wanted to help other people find what I found.”
Born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, Hansen struggled with his mobility in his hands and feet. Hansen explained that the neurological disease causes his brain to not send proper signals through his spine.
“So, before (playing piano), I had very little mobility in my hands; they were weak,” Hansen said. “Then, as I was playing piano, it was 100% difficult at first, but I eventually got through it and was able to play basic chords, spread out my hands more, switch positions.”
“Now, it’s just become muscle memory,” Hansen added. “I’ve developed the skill.”
Instead of learning to read music, Hansen learned by pressing the keys and discovering what notes sounded good together.
“I was able to write my own music, and it really helped just soothe me, calm me down anytime I’m feeling anxious or anything like that,” he said.
“I’ll just hop on the piano and slowly get better day by day,” Hansen continued. “Twenty minutes, an hour, it doesn’t matter; I’m going forward every day,” Hansen said.
At 23 years old, Hansen launched the Dana Point-based nonprofit, Arts for All, to help disabled and underserved youths access music education.
Hansen noticed that many kids lately are more closed off. However, realizing that playing piano helped Hansen work through some of his own struggles, he wanted to share the experience and support that playing music gave him.
“A lot of kids nowadays, they deal with anxiety, depression; they don’t really know how to express themselves,” Hansen said. “So, we help them unlock that creative expression. It helps them reduce anxiety, things like that, especially with some disabled kids.”
“We really want to focus on being able to push them to realize, ‘Hey, just because I have this disability or I’m put down in this way, it doesn’t have to hold you back,’ ” Hansen continued.
Though the State of California requires schools to offer courses in visual/media arts, dance, theater and music classes, a study by SRI Education published in 2022 found that only 11% of schools offer such courses in all four arts disciplines.
Hansen emphasized the statistic, noting the importance of arts education for youths.
Arts for All launched in October 2022, offering discount music lessons to participating families through its partnership with Danman’s Music School.
“I talked to Dan (Lefler, Danman’s founder), and he’s been helping me a lot through the entire process here,” Hansen said. “He has teaching staff, and he gives discounted rates. So, we have a little partnership going on.”
Once a family is approved for discount or free lessons through the nonprofit, they can choose a package of lessons.
“There’s a 20-lesson package and then four-packs,” Hansen said. “We do, do individual lessons here and there, but usually, I like to at least get them in for four, especially if they’re just trying out an instrument so they could really get into it.”
“It’s not just one instrument; they can learn all instruments, all ages, all experiences. We could find an instructor for just whoever we need,” Hansen continued.
Hansen added that students typically learn guitar, ukulele, violin, piano, voice, bass and drums.
If students do not have access to an instrument, Danman’s has plenty of instruments that they can use during the lessons, Hansen said.
“If they need something at home to practice with, I’ll work something out where we’ll send them home with an instrument,” Hansen said. “I also have people who repair and restring, maintain them. So, we have solutions for everything.”
“We just want to help out as much as we can,” Hansen continued.
To avoid students not showing up to lessons, Arts for All likes families to have a “stake in the game” and pay for a portion of the lessons. However, Hansen explained that “if for whatever reason they can’t, we’ll provide the lessons free of charge.”
The nonprofit also offers performance opportunities for its students through its partnership with StillWater Spirits & Sounds.
“So, we talked to StillWater, and then as for the stage, they do not charge us anything,” Hansen said. “We just have to provide either a sound guy or pay a sound guy to do the sound so our kids can perform live.”
Hansen added that performing live encourages the students to learn a complete song and helps them get more comfortable on stage and thinking on their feet. Students will also have the opportunity to perform at Danman’s, as well.
Arts for All’s next performance is open to the public at StillWater in the Lantern District on May 20 from 2-4 p.m.
If a student reaches the end of their lesson pack and shows that they are inspired to continue learning, Hansen said he would “absolutely make sure they could continue through our programs”; however, the nonprofit does try to rotate as many kids as it can through the program.
The nonprofit is currently working with 15 to 20 students, but Hansen hopes to grow the program in 2023.
“My goal for 2023—I have a little ‘Spread the Music Initiative’—is to help at least 100 kids with 20 lessons this year,” Hansen said.
Though the nonprofit is new, Hansen said Arts for All is already helping kids to find their passion and creative expression. One family that has taken lessons through Arts for All has already formed “their own little family band,” Hansen said.
“There’s three of them, all slightly autistic, but they absolutely love music,” Hansen said. “They’re learning drums, guitar, ukulele, some voice. They’re all playing together.”
Hansen explained that the inspiration behind Arts for All is that he aims to help kids realize that there are endless options for them, no matter their situation.
“I want to help kids directly be able to realize, just because you’re disabled or something like that, it doesn’t need to hold you back,” Hansen said. “There are tons of options out there; it might be music, it might not, but I want to give them that option.”
Families can apply for the free arts program through the Arts for All website, artsforallnonprofit.com, or by emailing Hansen at email@example.com with a phone number and a brief description of their situation.