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Music Makers

Music Makers is a program for at-risk youth to learn guitar, piano or chorus in weekly group classes. The material covered is largely based on input and feedback from the students in order to recognize various cultural backgrounds and to develop a sense of trust and investment. 
Michigan NightlightTell us briefly about your program in terms of it purpose and who it serves.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids’ Music Program Coordinator Casey Stratton: Music Makers is a national Boys and Girls Club program, but we’ve tailored it to the needs of our community. Because of funding cuts, there are no music classes past the elementary grades in the Grand Rapids Public Schools right now, so we wanted to fill in that gap. We offer group classes in guitar, piano or chorus. The classes are meant to be fun, but we do cover basics of music theory, and the intention is for kids to build on their knowledge from week to week.
What really differentiates this program?
This is my first time doing this type of thing, so I wasn’t really aware of many other programs, but I did research and it seems there aren’t that many that offer a curriculum that builds from week to week. We also take a very collaborative approach. For
I find that kids are much more engaged if they have a say in the process and are part of decision-making.
example, I let the kids choose a lot of the music we work on, so that it reflects their cultural backgrounds. I find that kids are much more engaged if they have a say in the process and are part of decision-making.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The kids’ involvement is key -- that they feel a part of the program. We had a winter concert after only five or six weeks of class. It was a good opportunity for them to feel the adrenaline and “rush” of being on stage, and also to feel successful and receive positive attention. That experience bonded us and gave them a deeper sense of trust in me, and that’s another important aspect for the program to move forward: that they develop positive relationships with adults.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
Our biggest challenge so far has been retention. We get to a point in the program where maybe the students aren’t progressing as quickly as they’d like, and they start to realize, “This is work!” I remember going through this myself when I was younger: the frustration of wanting to be good, and you’re not there yet. It’s slow going, especially in a group setting, and there are distractions like other activities in the next room. Because it’s a voluntary class, I can’t force them to stay if they want to quit. However, the ones that are left are really invested, and I try to keep in mind that since this is the first year, the bar of success is different.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
In preparing for this program, I researched a lot; I read several university studies on music education, and I discovered a blog
If they're dancing, I'm dancing with them. They may roll their eyes, but secretly they're thrilled, and it inspires trust.
written by a public school teacher in New York City about the best ways to teach music to urban kids. I also read about the P.S. 22 Chorus, a group of Staten Island fifth-graders who performed at the Academy Awards—the kids LOVE to watch videos of them performing! I think ultimately, you need to be sensitive and react to the cues you get from the kids. They have no idea they’re directing things as much as they are.
What are people in your program most inspired by? 
The kids are most inspired by the enthusiasm I show; the more of myself I put out there, the more invested they become. If they’re dancing, I’m dancing with them. They may roll their eyes, but secretly they’re thrilled, and it inspires trust. They’re also inspired by good performances. They support each other. At the winter concert, a six-year-old had a solo and she was so nervous she was crying. The kids all gathered around her and cheered her on; it was a great moment.

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