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TEAM program gives students access to music lessons

At Holy Names Music Center,  jazz band members, from left, Karsten Becker, Schuyler Asplin and Geoffrey Katzer rehearse “Cantaloupe Island” June 9. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
At Holy Names Music Center, jazz band members, from left, Karsten Becker, Schuyler Asplin and Geoffrey Katzer rehearse “Cantaloupe Island” June 9. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

For many families, private music lessons are an unaffordable luxury. But thanks to the TEAM Project (Teens Engaging in Alternatives through Music) at Holy Names Music Center, children ages 8-14 from Spokane’s most impoverished neighborhoods can experience the joys of music.

According to literature provided by the school, “The TEAM Project models success and hopefulness for daily living by providing youth with positive role models, a constructive means of self-expression, and an opportunity for personal, emotional and artistic growth in a safe, supportive environment.”

The program originated more than a year ago with instructor Tom Kelly. He said the idea is “to remove kids from their environment and take them away from peer pressure.” Kelly has taught in the ghetto schools of Brooklyn, N.Y., and witnessed similar surroundings in poor areas of Portland, where he taught for six years. “Most of these kids didn’t know about college. Their role models were criminals,” he said.

A passionate believer in the power of music to effect change, Kelly proposed this scholarship program. Students enrolled in the TEAM Project receive music lessons, instruction books, and instrument rentals at no charge.

Originally, the program was a partnership among Holy Names, the West Central Community Center and Goodwill Industries’ Mentoring Children of Promise. However, additional grant money, along with the support of several area churches, has enabled the program to expand into the East Central and Hillyard neighborhoods. In the future, Kelly hopes to work with the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, too. The added support has enabled the project to include the center’s preschool Music Together Program.

Kelly emphasizes the importance of giving the children a fresh perspective as they visit the beautiful tree-lined grounds of Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, where the school is located. There’s no differentiation between scholarship students and the more affluent students, he said.

Exposure to great music taught by experienced professionals promotes marked changes in the students. “Self-confidence grows in the shy, uncertain kids,” Kelly said. “Their communication skills improve because they all work together.” Eventually, he hopes to include older teens in the program. “We’re looking at kids ages 15 to 18,” he said. “That’s the ages kids drop out or get in trouble with drugs. I see a real need.”

David Asplin, director of development and marketing for Holy Names, said there are currently 17 students enrolled through the TEAM Project. The center offers other full scholarships, as well. Students participate in a variety of classes and performance groups, including Young Voices Sing, Holy Moley Jazz Band and a chamber music ensemble.

Last week, members of these groups gathered in preparation for an upcoming recital. The shrill sound of trumpets mingled with the plink of piano keys as music students warmed up. Soon the unmistakable riff of rhythmic jazz filled the recital hall.

Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” had feet tapping and heads nodding, though a grinning Kelly said he calls the tune “Catatonic Island.”

With his gray hair pulled back into a loosely tied ponytail, Kelly tapped out a beat and offered instructions to his students. “Let yourself go, Jacob,” he urged the young djembe student. “Play whatever your heart desires.”

Changing tempo, the group launched into “Summertime,” a choice that reflected the sultry afternoon. Wearing a fedora slouched over his brow, 16-year-old Jon O’Grady sang the vocals. “I’m a big Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett fan,” he said.

When the jazz band dispersed, the small chamber music ensemble demonstrated their knowledge of Mozart and filled the auditorium with the distinct and rich sound of classical music.

Next, three members of Young Voices Sing took center stage with their teacher, Andrea Dawson. The girls, ages 8, 9 and 10, sweetly trilled the familiar “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music.

Trinity Schultz, 9, fingered her pink dress and said, “I like ‘Edelweiss’ because it’s a soft song.” When asked if she’d ever sung a solo, her eyes grew big. “Twice,” she said. “I sang ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ and ‘You are my Sunshine.’ “

Dawson said most vocal teachers don’t accept students under age 13, because their vocal mechanisms haven’t solidified enough for them to weather the strain of individual voice lessons. However, the Young Voices program is designed to introduce the basics of performance to students and pave the way for future lessons.

She said her class, like the rest of the instruction offered through the TEAM Project, “is about laying the groundwork and making kids feel good about music.”