On a weekday morning in April, the Wesley Community Center in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood is packed with proud mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers. They are watching a group of aspiring string musicians perform “Twinkle Theme” on the violin and “French Folk Song” on the cello, along with other popular tunes.
It’s the year-end community concert, and for some family members in this tight-knit neighborhood just north of downtown, it’s the only time they get to see their loved ones play. It’s not only a proud moment for families but also for a group of University of Houston students who are seeing the fruition of a yearlong mentorship.
Last fall, Houston Youth Symphony (HYS) began a partnership with the UH Moores School of Music to have four music education students serve as student interns for the HYS Coda Music Program.
“UH students are learning how to teach in this environment. They all want to be teachers and future orchestra teachers,” said Erin Hansen, assistant professor of music.
The UH music students work with HYS staff to teach Coda program classes to students at Looscan, Sherman and Jefferson Elementary schools. Inspired by the El Sistema model out of Venezuela, the HYS Coda Music afterschool program teaches classical, string music to students in underprivileged communities. Students select a string instrument: violin, cello or bass, which is provided to them at no cost. They practice twice a week for two hours each session.
“In this area specifically, many of the parents work really hard. Some have two or three jobs,” said Jackson Guillen, UH alumnus and lead teacher of the HYS Coda Music Program.
UH mentors instruct students on how to hold their instruments correctly, ensure they have the right playing posture and address any challenges the kids may have. On some occasions, the interns will lead the class.
It’s the perfect scenario for UH student Omar Escobedo. He’s always dreamed of having his own studio to provide free music lessons to children who don’t have the means to pay for such a program.
“We are giving these kids an opportunity to perform,” he said.
And through this process, Escobedo has seen an amazing transformation in the children.
“They’ve become more open. Many of them were soft-spoken, just quiet,” he added. “They’ve gotten more comfortable with each other through music, and now they want to learn new songs and play together.”
The young students’ desire to stay after school and learn the instruments is what impressed UH student and violinist Adrian Ponce.
“I think being here instead of out on the streets—that, to me, is pretty rewarding,” Ponce said. “We want the students to aspire to go much higher, whether it’s in music or another area of their education.”
Ponce returned to help the children during the summer Coda session.
“I don’t know how we can do the program without the UH students,” said Amy Chung, HYS director of programs. “They are great role models for the students and work very well with them.”