May 15, 2013
MPA Alumnus Newell Hill (’99) announced the release his new book, Octaves of Success: 88 Keys to a Passion-Centered Career. Octaves of Success shares insights and wisdom from the journey of his local nonprofit, Keys 4/4 Kids, an organization that accepts, restores, and sells donated pianos. The money from these sales is used to support four charitable programs that strive to inspire young people to believe in themselves through arts and mentorship. The book provides readers with 88 lessons, or “keys,” that Hill has learned over the past decade of moving, fixing, and selling pianos.
Hill’s story begins during his days at MPA, sitting in the classroom of Upper School History teacher Maureen Conway. After transferring to MPA from a large Woodbury High School, Hill noted that he found himself struggling with his self confidence.
“Ms. Conway must have noticed that I needed a little support and emotional encouragement,” he said. “We’d meet during her lunch time and talk about my tests and papers. She was just so positive with me, and it was something I had never received from teachers in the past — they would give me grades and tell me what I had done wrong, but she tried to instill a sense of confidence in what I was already doing. She made an effort to connect with me and really help me discover my talents.”
Her overwhelming support and encouragement gave him hope for a bright future, and inspired him to look beyond himself for an opportunity to make a difference, he said. “Looking back on my time at MPA, the community as a whole is very encouraging of giving back and striving to make a difference in your community. MPA really believes in that philosophy, and it instilled that belief system in me and gave me the foundation to eventually do something like this. That ideology is still with me every day.”
During the summer of 2000, Hill began teaching music and art to kids in North Minneapolis in a program called MUSE. He said he wanted to inspire children to believe in themselves, just as Ms. Conway had done for him. In order to raise money for the after school program, Hill began fixing and selling used pianos out of his parent’s garage. During the first year, Hill fixed and sold over $10,000 worth of pianos. Though the profits from these sales were impressive, and MUSE continued to grow, the loss of several key funders resulted in the program closing its doors in 2005.
“At one point, I was basically broke. I had lost funding for the non-profit, the real estate market had collapsed, I had no money, I had to sell my car, and I was living in the basement of Keys 4/4 Kids when it was just beginning with a tiny storefront,” he said. “And I remember thinking… I am not going to give up. I am going to push through this. And I am so proud that I didn’t give up and that I fought back.”
In 2008, Hill focused his energy on finding a way to generate income for his mission. Hill thought the collecting, repairing and reselling of used pianos could provide the consistent and reliable income source he needed. Hill began working full time on his piano business, incorporating it as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, and calling it Keys 4/4 Kids (K44K). Instead of taking a salary from K44K, however, Hill started a piano moving business and charged K44K a competitive rate for all of its piano moves. As the business model flourished, Hill expanded to Chicago, then Kansas City. Gross annual sales grew from $100,000 to more than $500,000 during a two-year time span.
K44K is located in a warehouse on Grand Avenue at Hamline Avenue in Saint Paul. At this time, they sell approximately 30 pianos per month, with 100 percent of the profits going to the Maureen Conway Foundation (MCF). MCF supports several programs in the Twin Cities area that offer music and arts-based opportunities for young people. In the Fall of 2011, Hill and his board created four programs (Pianos on Parade, Paint a Piano, Piano Placement Program and the Maureen Conway “I Inspire Kids to Believe in Themselves” Award) that use the profits from piano sales to further the K44K mission of inspiring young people to believe in themselves through arts and mentorship.
Join Newell in celebrating the release of his book on May 18th, at 7pm in the Rotunda at the Mall of America.