Making Piano Accessible for All Kids
359 S. Kalamazoo Mall
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Piano Labs gives some of Kalamazoo’s most vulnerable kids and young adults a chance to make music and become pianists.
Professional music lessons, once out of reach for many of Kalamazoo’s young people, are now easily within their grasp. Piano Labs, an initiative of The Gilmore, has removed some of the barriers that vulnerable kids face by bringing free or low-cost piano instruction directly to them where they study, play, and live.
That means no arranging of after-school transportation to the lessons. No money-juggling for the private lessons that can be cost-prohibitive. No worries about the absence of a piano keyboard to practice on at home.
Director of Education Adam Schumaker and his team of associates – musicians, graduate-level music students, and music instructors – teach piano music to kids with age- and stage- appropriate lessons that educate, entertain, and enrich.
The children served through Piano Labs hail from three distinctly different populations: elementary schools, the Kalamazoo
Designed to support the facility’s incarcerated youth, Piano Labs uncovers talent that many kids don’t know they possess.
County Juvenile Home, and the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) Young Adult Program. Schedules, lab configurations, and curriculums differ from site to site.
The elementary school Piano Labs take place weekly at Woods Lake and Spring Valley schools, targeting second- through fifth-grade fledgling pianists, many of whom have never touched the keys of piano. For a one-time fee of just $10, students take part in 30-miniute piano lessons for the entire school year. They learn to read music and perform at recitals.
Piano Labs also serve youth residing at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Mastering piano seems like an odd challenge for youth in crisis or survival mode, who face numerous obstacles as they transition into adulthood. Many troubled teens already have fragile confidence that has been shredded by years of living through rough circumstances.
While some of these kids gave up on themselves years ago, Schumaker doesn’t give up on them. He believes that everyone has his own distinct brand of creativity.
A blend of private and group piano instruction, as well as sessions of music therapy, history and appreciation, are built into the curriculum at the juvenile home. Designed to support the facility’s incarcerated youth, Piano Labs uncovers talent that many kids don’t know they possess. During free time after the lessons, residents experiment and have fun with their own music. There’s a sound studio at the juvenile home where kids can make their own CDs; they write, perform and record the tracks, taking pride in the process and the results.
Across town, Piano Labs also works with 17- to 26-year-old pupils enrolled in the KRESA program for young adults with mild to severe emotional or physical challenges. Learning the life skills necessary to handle those challenges consumes much of the students’ education at KRESA, but Piano Labs bring a different aspect to their learning.
Some KRESA students don’t end up playing instruments or reading notes, but simply enjoy the free therapeutic magic of music, the soothing strains of piano. Percussion and other instruments are added into the lessons based on individual needs and interests.
Schumaker says that The Gilmore doesn’t exist simply to turn out stellar musicians. “We’re here to help kids who need our help,” says Shumaker. “Music programs are engaging for all of our students; music is a simple but very effective way to help kids learn about structure, perseverance, and other qualities they can take from our classes and use in their everyday lives.”
"We're here to help kids who need our help," says Shumaker. "Music programs are engaging for all of our students; music is a simple but very effective way to help kids learn about structure, perseverance, and other qualities they can take from our classes and use in their everyday lives."
As much as the three populations differ, everyone involved shares their joy at the musical festivals and recitals where Piano Labs’ students present their music to friends, families, and peers. These events have proved to be solid difference makers when it comes to the pride, conviction, and self-assurance that are vital to personal growth.
“This program helps kids and adults share triumphs with their parents, teachers, and friends,” Schumaker says. “I know that kids – and I’m talking about kids in general – crave attention from adults more than anything else.”
At Piano Labs’ sites, there is no ceiling on who can join. Anyone is welcome, and not a single child has been turned away in the three years that Schumaker has headed Piano Labs. It’s paying off in students taking ownership of what they’ve written or performed.
“One of the best things I see, and what I love most about the Piano Labs, is an increase in confidence and self-worth,” Schumaker says. “It’s great to be able to watch that happen.”