Before taking part in the City Music Program offered by a West Side non-profit, aspiring musician Corey Mathis listened to music on the radio or from his personal collection for enjoyment. He didn’t consciously consider the arrangement and composition of the songs – he was more interested in the instrumentation.
But since he’s been involved in the program, sponsored by The Chicago West Community Music Center, Mathis, 21, now dissects each song he listens to.
“I’ll listen to a song and start to think about where the bridge comes in, whether call and response is used, how the drum sections are incorporated,” said Mathis. “I’m a very interactive listener now.”
The City Music Program is a collaboration between The Chicago West Community Music Center, 100 N. Central Park, and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The program launched in January. The newest program from the music center, it offers music appreciation and education to undeserved communities, in this case Garfield Park, which has a shortage of music programs.
The program combines interactive collegiate-level computer courses based on Berklee’s curriculum. It also features inter-conferencing software, allowing students to interface with educators at the campus. And it provides one-on-one instruction from the staff of the music center to hone the student’s skills in both playing and assessing the music’s structure.
Mathis, a 5-year member of the music center, which offers education and instruction in music, added, “I started coming while I was a student of Austin Community Academy. The center had a program through After School Matters called ‘Business of Music.’ It basically taught aspiring musicians about the ins-and-outs of the music business. We learned how to publish, promote and market our own music. It’s a great program. However, last fall, I heard they were starting this new jazz program at the center to expand my knowledge of music structure and I decided to get involved.”
Howard Sandifer, executive director of the center, first read about Berklee’s City Music Program in 2007 from a magazine article and was instantly intrigued.
“I thought that this would be a perfect program for our center,” said Sandifer, who soon after, reached out to Berklee to inquire about the program.
In addition to offering courses to students, Berklee will allow participants in the two-year program to qualify for a full $114,000 scholarship to the school. The music center wants to expand the program to accommodate more students if additional funding becomes available. The program is paid for in part through a grant by the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance.
The program has 10 participants, but, unlike Mathis, the rest are in high school and grammar school. They meet for three hours every Monday and Friday.
“There are really not many music programs in the Garfield Park, Austin or North Lawndale communities,” said Darlene Sandifer, Howard’s wife and the center’s administrator. “Many students who are interested in playing an instrument or learning about music structure have not had the opportunity to pursue their interest or are too afraid of failure to try.”
Mathis plays keyboard – since the age of 14 – bass guitar and drums. His talents have catapulted him to the musical director position at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church on the South Side. Mathis is eager to have the chance to audition for the Berklee scholarship, although he is pretty certain about his collegiate future regardless.
“I see myself applying to Berklee School of Music with or without a scholarship,” he insisted. “[The City of Music Program] is perfect in preparing me for college-level study in music. I want to learn as much as I can while I’m a part of it.”