Jessie Marin got hooked on Kidznotes several years ago when, as a second-grader at Club Boulevard Elementary in Durham, she spied an array of instruments the organization was displaying during an open house at the school.
“Mom, can I play one?” Jessie immediately wanted to know.
The answer was yes – with help from Kidznotes. Because the nonprofit, which was launched in 2010, makes music lessons and instruments available for free to any student at the eight Durham and Raleigh schools it serves.
Jessie, now an 11-year-old sixth-grader, was one of about 300 Kidznotes students who performed onstage Saturday morning at the Holton Career and Resource Center for the organization’s fifth-annual winter concert. Jessie played both guitar and violin on several selections, including Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
Jessie talked before the concert about how much she likes playing with fellow musicians.
“It’s really cool when you play an instrument in an orchestra and you hear all those instruments making those beautiful sounds,” she said.
But, for Kidznotes, the music is part of a more ambitious agenda.
“It’s a music system for social change whose whole mission is to serve children and families who would not otherwise have the opportunity – to empower kids through music,” said Katie Wyatt, executive director.
In the Raleigh and Durham schools that Kidznotes serves, at least 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
Higher test scores
Wyatt also connects the dots between music and the program’s overarching goal, explaining how the music lessons it offers are about much more than hitting the right notes and playing expressively.
“Mounds of data,” she noted, “support that the right and left brain coordination that occurs in a young child ... who is spending an inordinate amount of time on how to play an instrument, are actually building different and more powerful synapses in their brain.”
The result, Kidznotes boasts, is higher test scores. The organization boasts that of the students who have spent at least a year in the program, 80 percent have scored proficient or higher in their fifth-grade end-of-grade math tests. That compares with 36 percent for their classroom peers.
Kidznotes has provided music instruction to about 500 students since its inception. It’s based on El Sistema, an influential music education program developed in Venezuela in the 1970s whose graduates include Grammy-award-winning conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Today Kidznotes is one of 120 El Sistema-inspired programs operating across the U.S.
Kidznotes is laying expansion plans with the help of fellow nonprofit Band Together NC.
Reaching more kids
Each year Band Together selects a nonprofit partner that it works alongside to boost its funding from donations and grants – and via a major charity concert. Last month it named Kidznotes as its partner for 2016.
“Our goal is to serve 1,000 kids by 2020 – 500 in Raleigh and 500 in Durham,” said Keith Strombotne, Kidznotes’ director of development and community partnerships.
Andrea Cherry, 31, a single mom, bubbles with enthusiasm over the program’s benefits to her son, André, a first-grader at Raleigh’s Poe Magnet Elementary School.
“Music is so important for children,” she said. “It opens up a whole other level of imagination for them. That’s priceless.”
In addition, Cherry said, the program has boosted her son’s self-image.
“It helps him to empower himself, (to) say I can do this,” she said.
Similarly, Jessie Marin’s parents – Rodolfo, 41, an electrician’s assistant, and Yesenia, 39, a preschool teacher – say the program has improved their daughter’s self-confidence. And they talk about how self-disciplined Jessie has to be to fit in the Kidznotes’ instruction – which totals 10 hours a week during the school year – along with her homework and chores.
Their younger daughter, Jacqueline, a first-grader, has followed Jessie into the Kidznotes program. Right now she’s a percussionist.
“There’s a lot of notes to play in percussion,” Jacqueline said. “Sometimes I get confused” and stop playing altogether.
But whenever she hits a roadblock, she added, “I try again and again and again.”
That’s music to the ears of any parent.