Music education can change a child's life, unlocking a gift that can carry them through a lifetime.
:I like the music academy because the teachers are really nice here and I love playing piano and I could be successful with it," said one student.
Inside First United Methodist Church on Nebraska Street, you can hear the tinkering of piano keys every Monday afternoon. It's part of the Music Academy at First, a new program teaching music to kids who may just need it most.
"It's where it really starts is in elementary," said academy director Gene Wagner. "Where do we get these kids involved in music and how do we get them started in music, especially for kids that are low income that can't afford to do some of that stuff? They don't have those opportunities. And that was kind of the kickoff for the music academy to provide those opportunities for kids who don't have the finances and can't afford to do any of this stuff."
The Music Academy officially launched this year offering free beginner piano lessons to students at Hunt Elementary who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Before the old Hunt Elementary was closed down, the church had a similar program going, offering free piano lessons to students. When the new Hunt Elementary opened its doors, creating the Music Academy was a no-brainer.
"It offers so many benefits for those kids, makes them better students and better prepares them for their future." Piano lessons expanded to hand chimes and string instruments. Several instructors also offer private lessons for kids who really want to keep learning and have a love for music.
"To see a kid brighten up and open up and be able to express themselves in this way means everything," said string instructor Eleanor May-Patterson. "To me, it means it's a lifelong learning experience, where it's not only just learning an instrument or learning how to sing, but it's learning history, and how and what the composers were doing, across time and globally."
"Music is not just a single thing, but it's so many skills together," said Wagner. "It's that focus. It's reading rhythms. It's reading notes. It's about working together, being on time and being supportive."
Instructors like Carolyn Rants teach because they want to help kids find purpose.
"You know, it gives you that expression of music and that love for music," Rants said. "And if we can give that to children who maybe, in today's society, don't have it in their home. There's a cacophony in society and so it's great to be able to provide some of that," she said, "which is why my cane and I come and volunteer."
'My heart just sings when I see these kids coming in," said piano instructor Emily Jasman. "It's after school, early out on a Monday. They could be going home and watching TV or doing other things but they chose to come here and continue these lessons."
Lessons are completely free for kids in the program with instruments and music funded by grants and donations. While its reach is small now, the hope is that the Music Academy can grow to more schools, more students, and more instruments. For those who are part of First United Methodist Church, having this program in their facilities is important.
"To see a child when they come here and never even have touched a piano and after the first lesson, they're playing Old MacDonald," said Pastor Roger Madden, "it's amazing. The next week, a little more, and the third week, they're just excited. And it's not just the music. It's also the relationship they build with their teacher."
These volunteers are teaching more than just the keys on the piano.
"Their confidence grows," said Jasman of the change she sees in her students. "They become better public speakers. They become more confident in decision-making because their reading is better. And they know they can express themselves."
"And there's a lot of camaraderie with kids that are in those programs and it gives them a space to be creative but also to stay safe in a safe environment. Well, I think it's an experience that they don't get any other way," said Rants. "To experience the creativity that comes from music, the sounds, the appreciation that you have. You don't realize how much you learn from that experience until later in your life."
The Music Academy at First is run entirely on grants and donations, to provide the instruments and music for the kids. The Academy hopes to grow its reach, to offer free music lessons to kids across the area from elementary through high school.
SEE THE VIDEO
Web articles from my time at Siouxland News.