They are young, impressionable minds from different diverse ethnicities, religions, and socio economic backgrounds but through music they are learning to be as one. They are growing individually into more compassionate, empathetic, responsible, and confident human beings; and they are growing collectively as mentors, teachers, learners, team members and performers.
These are the 90+ members of MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati), a free youth orchestra program for youth who live and go to school in Price Hill. While students learn violin, viola, cello or double bass as part of an orchestra, they also learn so much more about life skills.
Such a wonderful concept! I spoke with Eddy Kwon, program director who co-founded MYCincinnati as part of the nonprofit Price Hill Will with Laura Jekel in 2011. He told me the goal is not necessarily to create professional musicians, but well rounded, compassionate, empathetic humans interested in the greater good.
What makes this music program unique – in addition to the fact that this is absolutely a neighborhood empowerment driven initiative – is that MYCincinnati is group focused and community centered. Instead of incorporating private lessons and at home practice, theirs is all about learning, practicing and performing together, and supporting each other in the process.
“We want our participants to have fun but we also hold them to the highest stands. We really push each of them to the health of the whole group, rather than on pursuing individual desires and impulses,” Eddy said.
“We’ve found that that keeps them engaged. It is difficult for people new to playing musical instruments to sound good, and it can be pretty easy to become discouraged if they practice by themselves. With MYCincinnati, they make friends and when they are all working together and enjoying it, the experience can be pretty addicting.”
If you don’t believe Eddy’s words, these are some thoughts from some of the youth in the orchestra:
“I’m going to continue to play music, because I’m inspired by it.”
– Abner Diaz Rodriguez, 15
“I love MYCincinnati. It’s like my second family.”
– Kalla Ervin, 16
“My family thinks it’s spectacular, because you get to make new friends and learn music.”
– Gabriel Santiago, 11
MYCincinnati includes a pre-orchestra for children from Kindergarten to second grade where they learn singing, songwriting, bucket drumming and other foundational skills. This meets for one hour each day from 3 to 4 pm. And its string orchestra program is for youth ages second grade to high school juniors, meeting two hours daily. Following practice, free tutoring and mentoring is offered.
The orchestra performs often in the Price Hill area and in larger Cincinnati venues (many of their performances are free to attend). Please visit their website to see their schedule.
Some additional questions for Eddy:
Lisa: What impact have you seen on your participants?
Eddy: Imagine sitting through a two hour rehearsal and being completely focused. Doing that every day develops many skills like memory, goal setting, impulse control, values. In a multi cultural learning environment, there are many challenges but our goals and expectations are so clear that no matter their background or where they live, they know that everyone is trying their best to learn and practice for the next concert. One of things I notice most is that kids feel a sense of family and sense of belonging, have more confidence, and are able to communicate better.
Lisa: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Eddy: To be able to spend time with all of the students every day. I love teaching and working with a large group. The business side of this can be tedious but it is all worth it when I get to work with the kids, and be a part of joyful and loving community. Seven of our 11 original students are still with us which says a lot about our impact.
Before I began this, I didn’t really like kids and think I may have been a little bit afraid of them. They have a way of calling you out or noticing things about your personality and are not afraid to tell you about it. I avoided kids when younger but the more I got to work with them, the more I see them as deep complex human beings.
Written by: Good Things Going Around Intern, Andrea Francisco, a student at Indian Hill High School in Cincinnati
Price Hill’s MyCincinnati Orchestra program helps students in grades K-12 express themselves while boosting their confidence in a supportive group. Founded in 2011 by Laura Jekel, it serves as a totally engaging (and completely free!) program for kids. However, students must commit to coming every day of the program, which runs from Monday through Friday from 4-6 P.M. This is because the more time put into practicing an instrument, the better they will get at playing and the more their confidence will grow. Furthermore, this instills a strong sense of dedication and effort into the developing minds of children, something that will help them throughout the rest of their lives. Through a transformative and immersive program of learning and teamwork, students enrolled in the MyCincinnati Orchestra program will learn a set of life-changing skills — something that is truly priceless.
Laura Jekel, who is also the director and teaches some days, has an amazing background in music, along with the rest of the teachers involved in MyCincinnati Orchestra. Laura has a bachelor degree of music from Indiana University at Bloomington and completed her master of music degree at Carnegie Mellon University and the Peabody Institute. Along with this, she lived in Ecuador, where she was a member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Guayaquil and cello professor at the music school Fronteras Musicales Abiertas in Cuenca. There is a much longer list of all the things she has accomplished — so much that it is hard to fit in this paragraph! In addition, Eddy Kwon, the assistant program director, is a Cincinnatus Presidential Full Scholar with a BM in Jazz Studies from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Also, He has been involved in many El-Sistema inspired programs in the US. To clarify, El-Sistema, Venezuela’s revolutionary youth orchestra program for social change, is the inspiration for MyCincinnati Orchestra. These are just two examples of the staff at MyCincinnati Orchestra, all of whom share an extensive background in music and dedicate their lives to bringing about social change through music.
Laura says that she has witnessed the benefit young minds garner through playing instrumental music. “I have noticed an increase in the children’s ability to focus. They are also gaining self-confidence. I believe music is empowering them to believe in themselves, and giving them a sense of identity. Learning an instrument also builds many life skills such as discipline, responsibility, and working towards long-term goals.” Learning how to play instruments requires a lot of discipline, dedication, and passion which translates to every aspect of a child’s life. This instrument learning program is especially vital to children who are not engaged in school and want to find something they love to do. Also, learning an instrument provides an outlet for children to express themselves, develop lifelong skills, and learn how to love learning. In fact, many studies show that music can help children better understand patterns when learning math. Not only this, but learning how to play an instrument can help kids with their physical coordination and emotional self-esteem. On top of this, group instrumental classes will help children find a welcoming group of friends to belong to, like a home away from home.
To learn more, please contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-251-3800 x 106