Twice a week, a group of 4th and 5th graders unpack their instruments in a school classroom and prepare to receive violin lessons. This would seem mundane, since this school is situated in Silicon Valley, where parents regularly sign their children up for violin or piano lessons. However, this is on the other side of Silicon Valley’s “train-tracks,” in underserved East Palo Alto (EPA). Normally these children would not be able to afford music lessons, most of them being children of low-income families. Specifically, violins are expensive and the tuition costs are high in the area. Even the few bucks required to purchase the popularly used Suzuki Violin Book is a carefully considered expense.
In 1995, Music In the Schools was founded to fill the need for music for students with financial difficulties. The program currently provides violin, viola, cello and choral classes to elementary schools during the school year throughout East Palo Alto. Not only does the program provide free instruments, music, and lessons, it also supports children by giving them teachers and teenage volunteers that they can look up to. Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra (PACO) has supplied the teenage volunteers from their Sinfonia and Senior levels, and also have donated many instruments to support MiS. The students are used as examples of musical talent to inspire the younger children to achieve more musically.
The program is also aware of the specific cultural backgrounds of their students, and seeks to engage them by teaching them to play songs from their culture. East Palo Alto has one of the largest Tongan populations in America, so one of the songs the students learned was the National Anthem of Tonga. The children were very excited to learn a piece that was so familiar to them and integral to their personal lives.
The students who come out of the MiS program have learned basic musical theory, giving them a boost if they ever want to pursue any other type of music later on in life. Shelly Monarez, a MiS teacher for Willow Oaks Elementary School, shared that her students “learn to sing in key and in tune,” after being in the program for a few months.
As a whole, Music in the Schools is a distinguished non-profit organization that encourages the students of EPA to achieve beyond what money can purchase for them.