It’s another sunny, Friday afternoon at Oasis Charter Public School in Salinas. In one classroom, a small group of students strum chords on guitars. In another, a group learns how to properly hold a violin bow.
Holden Boutelle, a seventh grader, pulls his viola out of a case and plays the melodious piece “Greensleeves.” Holden is not learning viola as part of a school music class. Instead, he and his peers are being instructed by volunteer high school students who are experienced musicians themselves.
These high school instrumentalists are a part of Keeping Music Alive, a local non-profit started by York alumnus and Harvard student Perry Choi in 2009. KMA was started when California schools were facing budget cuts, and performing arts programs were the first activities to be eliminated.
“We go to elementary schools lacking a music program and provide them one for free,” the KMA website notes. “Our mission is to give as many elementary school kids we can reach the gift of music.”
CHS alum Iljin Cho was president of KMA during the 2011-12 school year, and this year CHS junior Courtney Yoo and Monterey High senior Matthew Bae are co-presidents.
A paramount belief of KMA is that music is “as important as core classes like math, English, and history” to a child’s education.
“We teach more than just the rhythms or the notes,” Yoo says. “We teach the kids why it is important to appreciate all the wonderful music around our daily lives.”
Other CHS volunteers include juniors Aaron Dally, Allison Vanderley and Peter Mellinger, sophomore Ailis Dooner and freshmen Christina Byun and Steve Yoo. On Friday afternoons, when most students go home and relax, these musicians dedicate their time to going to Salinas and teaching for an hour. While it may seem like a sacrifice, these students believe it is worth it.
“I support KMA,” Dally, a guitar teacher, notes, “because I realize how much the kids we teach appreciate it. An hour of our time is worth more to them than one would expect.”
Volunteer Josette Marsh, a Pacific Grove High sophomore and violinist, also believes “music cultivates a type of intimate teamwork unlike any other.”
“I have been privileged enough to have received a musical education,” Marsh says, “and I would like to share that with others.”
This year, Keeping Music Alive offers lessons for violin, viola, flute, clarinet, guitar, voice, piano, saxophone and trumpet.
Students are grateful for the opportunity they have been given, and to many it opens doors to experiences they would otherwise not be exposed to.
Boutelle, for example, originally played the cello, but switched to the viola, an instrument similar to both the cello and violin.
“I like the vibrations of the clarinet,” says fifth grader Owen Lemmon. “Whenever I listen to a song, I try to play it on the clarinet.”
Lemmon plans on playing in a high school band. “I’ll probably get onto the saxophone or bass clarinet,” he notes.
“I like seeing myself progress,” adds Boutelle in a sentiment common among other students.
Keeping Music Alive has many goals for the future, including having Salinas High School students teach at Oasis Elementary. They would also like student-teachers from the Monterey Peninsula to offer free lessons for those who would like them. As well, they hope to expand to other schools in the area that lack a music program.
KMA has been featured in the Korean Daily News and From the Top, an NPR radio show featuring prodigy musicians and their accomplishments.
Choi was named an Outstanding Philanthropic Youth by the National Philanthropy Day for the Central Coast in 2010 for his development of Keeping Music Alive.
Keeping Music Alive holds benefit concerts throughout the year to raise money to purchase books and instruments for the program. The last concert was held in late November, and the next will probably be sometime in March.
The concerts feature performances by local high school musicians, and according to their website, KMA hopes to “create a band or orchestra and perform for the public.”