Harbor Style Harbor Style May 2017 : Page 94
T he seeds have been planted in a field of first-graders. Whether any of the ukuleles bear fruit is a matter for the future. Music, like any other crop, requires patience. It needs aptitude and absorption to take root, application to grow, acquisition to blossom. The ukuleles – 18 of them – were donated to Abby Lindo’s music class at Liberty Elementary by the Young Musicians Education Foundation, the eight-year-old nonprofit dedicated to bringing together stringed instruments and children whose families are unable to afford them. You know them as the group behind the Banjo Bash. What better place to sow the seeds than the minds of six-year-olds, as fertile ground as there is. Seventeen of the ukes were painted light blue, the note of each string marked. One was green. That one was Lindo’s. Lindo recently opened her class to a couple visitors curious to see what impact ukuleles might have on first-graders. The sights and sounds of the 18 kids were lesson enough. They played their instruments – turning out “Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” – they sang, they danced. All the while, there was something larger going in on the room. Learning was happening. Music and beyond. ³ Story by Rusty Pray I Photography by Sue Paquin
Keep The Light Shining
The Young Musicians Education Foundation seeks to keep the music alive by putting fretted, stringed instruments in the hands of local youth.
The seeds have been planted in a field of first-graders.
Whether any of the ukuleles bear fruit is a matter for the future. Music, like any other crop, requires patience. It needs aptitude and absorption to take root, application to grow, acquisition to blossom.
The ukuleles – 18 of them – were donated to Abby Lindo’s music class at Liberty Elementary by the Young Musicians Education Foundation, the eight-year-old nonprofit dedicated to bringing together stringed instruments and children whose families are unable to afford them. You know them as the group behind the Banjo Bash
What better place to sow the seeds than the minds of six-yearolds, as fertile ground as there is.
Seventeen of the ukes were painted light blue, the note of each string marked. One was green. That one was Lindo’s.
Lindo recently opened her class to a couple visitors curious to see what impact ukuleles might have on first-graders.
The sights and sounds of the 18 kids were lesson enough. They played their instruments – turning out “Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” – they sang, they danced. All the while, there was something larger going in on the room. Learning was happening. Music and beyond.
As a gardener, Lindo has all the tools. She’s a classically trained soprano who plays piano, guitar and clarinet. As a teacher, she is the kind you remember when you’re out of school. She’s the kind that, while you’re watching her, you wish you had her when you were in school.
She commands the kids’ attention from the first note. Nobody steps out of line. Nobody asks for a lavatory pass. Everybody sits in their spot, ready to go.
Lindo teaches first to fifth grade in a school of 600 students. She is 28, lives not far from where she teaches in Murdock, and is continuing her education. She received the tiny ukes at the end of last school year from the Young Musicians Education Foundations, which also donated four larger, baritone ukuleles.
The plan is to put the tiny instruments in tiny hands and grow from there into larger stringed instruments.
The plan, according to the mission statement posted on Lindo’s door, is to “engage in various activities focused on fostering a healthy appreciation for music and good musicianship that will last throughout their lives.”
“The kids are eager,” Lindo said between bites of a rushed beforeclass breakfast. Two of her first-graders especially – Jiselle Pierce and Eduardo Benitez – “play their songs with passion, and they learn the notes. Some are just like, ‘Ah, Ms. Lindo is making us do stuff. I hate music.’ And others are, ‘Music is my favorite. I love music.’”
Lindo teaches the basic mechanics first: the sounds of the four strings – A, E, C, G – the purpose of the frets, how the two work together to produce music.
“We tie it all around a song, because they want to play something. It’s song-based, but they’re taught the mechanics.”
Before the class started, Jiselle and Eduardo talked about their musical aspirations. She eventually wants to learn the piano; he wants to play the drums.
“I like music a lot,” Jiselle declared.
The uke is a start.
Lindo began the class by clapping twice. Her students returned the applause before sitting on their marks. She began handing out the ukes, tuning each by ear.
As her students settled with their instruments, she instructed, “I need your finger on the third fret, A string.”
“Row Your Boat” began. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” followed.
Later, she taught the musical scale, her voice hitting purer notes than those generated by the computer.
It was time, after that, for everyone to “take a brain break.”
She then used music to teach about Argentina – a country shaped like a “tornado with a mouth.” The kids sang the song and danced the tango, learning Argentina’s geographic location, its language, its customs.
All of which brought to light a larger point. The arts play a huge role in education, and they need to be included in the public education curriculum.
In these days of budget restraints and belt-tightening, the arts are the first notch to go. Money has been directed away from them to more “essential” programs.
But arts aren’t just about drawing stick figures or painting by numbers. They are not just about Lindo’s students learning to play a few simple songs on an instrument most of them will never again pick up.
They’re about history. They’re about geography. They’re about knowing what Argentina is.
“We know that students who take part in arts and music score higher in standardized testing,” said Ellen Harvey, an educator who serves on the board of the Visual Arts Center and is a former board member of the Arts & Humanities Council of Charlotte County.
“The students who don’t participate in the arts don’t score as well. That’s not a theory. It is a fact backed up by data.”
Without organizations that support the arts, “we would not be able to offer arts programs in the schools. We just don’t have the money.
“It takes the community to understand the arts must be involved in the schools.
The Young Musicians Education Foundation is one of the lesserknown of those organizations. The Banjo Bash, which brings together world-class banjo players for an annual concert that funds the scholarship and instrument programs, is its signature event.
Its mission statement says the organization strives to “financially assist children who otherwise would be unable to afford lessons on stringed musical instruments. By assisting these children, we hope to perpetuate the sound of the tenor and plectrum banjos as well as other fretted, stringed instruments.”
Low profile or not, the foundation put those ukes in the hands of those first-graders, and it supports private lessons for five students. All its profits, cash donations, instruments and proceeds from fundraisers are used to provide music lessons or instruments to children in financial need.
Its board wants to do more and is actively seeking funding sources.
John Wildeman is its president. The retired firefighter and police officer is an accomplished banjo player, which automatically makes him a curator of a museum piece. These days, the banjo is not a trending instrument, a direction he and his fellow players want to reverse.
“We decided we had to do something with our money and started supporting kids,” Wildeman said of the foundation’s birth in 2009. “It’s been ‘let’s go’ from there. Every penny we realize goes to children learning to play guitar, banjo, ukulele or mandolin.”
The foundation awards grants for private lessons on stringed instruments to 8- to 18-year olds – “any kid who shows an interest in music. We don’t care where kids live. It makes no difference to us. Our only requirement is they keep their grades up in school.”
“Each case is completely different,” said Jim Syoen, longtime TV weatherman and tuba player who serves as the foundation’s vice president. “We get recommendations from parents, private instructors and friends of the family.
“Any parents or teachers that need assistance starting their children on guitar, banjo or ukulele can contact us. Our board is composed of several established musicians that can offer help in nearly every area.”
In the past months, the foundation also has established a musical instrument donation effort. It accepts musical instruments that are currently unused, then repairs or refurbishes them and gets them “into the hands of budding musicians.”
Wildeman and Syoen joined forces about four years ago when Wildman asked Syoen to emcee the Banjo Bash.
“He and I became friends,” Syoen said. “He told me more about the foundation. I decided to get involved.
“I got involved because as I play tuba in a band at lots of public venues, I see the reaction music gets from 4-, 5-, 6-year-olds. Each one of them wants to touch the tuba, the valves. With arts programs being cut, there was no place I would have rather turned.”
Right now, the program is supporting private lessons for five kids. Diana Sophia Oliver, 9, and Jorge Bryan Oliver, 11, are two of them. They have been studying guitar for two years under Mark Fitzpatrick. They take lessons under him on Tuesday’s at the Music Stand in Port Charlotte.
Jorge leans toward classical guitar; Diana is the rocker in the family.
Their mother, Marlyn Herrera, saw a flier for the foundation and sent an email request.
The idea to learn guitar came to Jorge through the music program at Kingsway Elementary – schools and arts in the same breath again. Jorge is now at sixth-grader at Port Charlotte Middle School.
“I love music,” he said, “so I decided to join the chorus. Once there, I thought it would be nice to play an instrument, and I chose guitar.”
Diana, a fourth-grader at Neil Armstrong, said she liked that she could make the guitar “loud or soft” as she picked out “Love Me Tender.”
As Fitzpatrick put them through their paces in a small room, their mother peered inside.
“He has a lot of passion for the kids,” she said.
Passion for music could be felt all the way down at Mike Currao’s house in Burnt Store Marina. A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Currao is one of the foremost banjo players in the world. He’s a 2014 inductee into the Banjo Hall of Fame. Earl Scruggs was inducted at the same time.
According to the biography on his website, Currao was 7 years old when he began taking lessons on the tenor banjo from his father, Charles. “His father was an extraordinary musician who played with such notables as Paul Whitman, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante. Following in his dad's musical footsteps, Mike has been performing and teaching tenor banjo, guitar, mandolin and ukulele for over 40 years.”
Currao also is the leader of the Gulf Coast Banjo Society of Venice and forms one-third of the All-American Banjo Team. Wildman and Syoen are the other two band members.
Currao has been active as either a board member or consultant with the foundation since its inception.
“I thought I would slow up in retirement,” he said as he played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” on his 100-year-old banjo. “Forgeddaboutit. I play with this, that and the other. It’s not like driving a truck. I play for an hour or two, have fun and get paid.”
When he’s not performing, Currao teaches and works with the foundation. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “John is very sincere with helping the kids. He’s very concerned about them. And he does it every day.”
Before Wildeman, rhythm banjoist in the band, and Syoen joined him for a mini-concert on the lanai, Currao talked about the importance of preserving the banjo.
“The banjo is being antiquated,” he said. “It shouldn’t be happening. It’s an American institution.
“A lot of children don’t even know what the banjo is. We’re here to preserve it. And there’s only one way to keep it going.”
Currao has an odd ally in Jim Morrison, frontman for the Doors ‘60s rock group.
“When the music’s over,” Morrison wrote, “turn out the lights.”
It’s important the light stays on.
For more information about the Young Musicians Education Foundation, call (941) 585-2387, visit www.ymeFoundation.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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