It started with an argument. Inspiration has a way of showing up at bizarre times. In this story, inspiration came knocking during an argument with my 10-year-old son.
“I wish you were Max’s* Mom and I had his Mom!”
“Because he’s dying to play the violin and his mom can’t afford it, and you are MAKING me play it.”
“But I thought you LIKED the violin.”
“I like the LESSONS at school, not practicing alone in the living room. I like playing with other kids where it is LOUD. But I don’t FEEL like practicing by myself.”
And so the idea was born to start a music mentorship and scholarship program at my son’s school.
I had known for some time that I wanted to do some kind of arts-related community outreach, but I hadn’t yet figured out what it would look like. And here it was, right in front of me. A project that would encourage my son to continue with an instrument that he seems to play pretty well, while simultaneously giving an opportunity to kids who may not be able to take advantage of the school’s music program due to financial and/or transportation issues. I knew it wasn’t enough to throw money at the cause, to just purchase instruments. Kids who want to learn an instrument need someone to mentor them, to make sure that they have an opportunity to practice consistently. I thought to myself, “I could BE that guy.” The bonus was that if I could be that mentor, my son would get his practice time in along with other kids during sessions that were LOUD and fun.
I pitched the idea to my son first. I needed to make sure he was on board before I took it to the principal and the orchestra teacher. He liked the idea immediately, especially when I told him he would be my special assistant. He immediately started referring to it around the house as “the Program.” It already sounded official, even though we were the only two people who knew about it. So I pitched “the Program” to his principal and the orchestra teacher.
It was an incredibly fun meeting. I got to go in and basically tell people that I wanted to help them and offer something currently unavailable for free – I was willing to do all of the necessary leg-work. Smiles all around. Since the meeting was happening mid-school-year, we decided to start small with the mentorship piece for kids who were already involved in the orchestra, to see if they were receptive and if anyone would actually show up for optional practice sessions in the morning before school. So for the past two months, I have shown up at school twice a week, and during the time between when the buses drop kids off and the first bell rings, my son and a few beginner students and I have been having violin jam sessions. So far, so good. The kids really seem to like it. Plus I give away prizes.
During this time, I have also managed to acquire two violins, so we should be able to offer scholarships to at least two students next year. The next step will be to meet with the principal, orchestra teacher and elementary school music teacher to talk about how to identify and award the scholarships, whether we should try to raise money for more students, and what the next steps might be for growing this program. The challenges I foresee are scheduling, transportation and coordination of volunteers – but I am optimistic that it is all entirely doable. I hope as more people get involved that they will be as excited about the potential of this program as I am.
One of my musician friends has been known to say that if you can learn an instrument, you will have a friend for life. This is certainly true for me as a singer. Music is this amazing friend that unconditionally allows me to let it all go whether I am happy, sad, inspired or stressed. As a person who has always felt this way about singing, if I can provide that kind of outlet for one child – if I can give that gift to even just one person who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to explore him or herself through music, this program will have been a huge success.
If you have participated in a program like this, if you have any ideas or input or if you are interested in helping to make this program happen here specifically, please let me know. It is an exciting time, and I look forward to sharing our progress as things unfold.
*Name has been changed.