Every Saturday for an entire school year, grade school kids from East and West Garfield Park have converged on the Chicago West Community Music Center to receive music instruction – tuition-free.
On this particular Saturday morning, however, instead of practicing as usual, they performed, displaying all they had learned during a recital at the Garfield Park field house, 100 N. Central Park, on aJan. 29th.
The WISH program (Westside Instructional String & Harp) in partnership with the Music Institute of Chicago brought instructors to the community to teach guitar, cello, violin and harp to the children of the neighborhood.
The light-hearted event – which included renditions of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and even a silly song, asking if one wanted a pickle on their ice cream sundae – brought out family members and friends with cameras and video recorders in tow.
Though the children performed well, they did it all without a single music book. According to violin instructor Aimee Biasiello, this is because almost none of the children can read music.
“The children have heard these songs so many times and their ears have heard the pieces over and over again that they have learned the sound of the instrument,” Biasiello said. “They are simply playing by ear.”
Ellen McSweeney, also a violin instructor, has been with the program since its beginning in October 2009. She agrees that teaching the kids by ear is the best method for those just starting out.
“We teach the children how to set up their instrument,” McSweeney said. “We teach them how to hold their instrument. We teach them proper technique first. Reading notes will come later.”
The instruments used were provided, some rent free, from various music stores.
The program, designed to provide music education for underserved youth, meets for 30 weeks.
Each student receives 30 minutes of private instruction and then 30 minutes of group instruction once a week.
“This is how I and most other students were taught through 15 years of music classes,” McSweeney said.
Omarion Roman and Camron Oquendo’s mother, Cynthia, had nothing but praise for the instructors of the WISH program.
“This program and the teachers are excellent,” she said. “This has been so important since they have taken most of the music classes out of the schools. There needs to be more programs like this.’
The instructors thanked the parents for ensuring the students’ arrival week after week. The parents, in turn, thanked the instructors for their dedication and commitment to their children.
The music center was founded in 1999 by musician and former longtime Westside resident Howard Sandifer, through a new partnership with the Chicago Park District. It now occupies a permanent space at the Garfield Park Gold Dome, the park’s field house.
The center is currently offering classes and programs in music education for more than 1,200 students of all ages and skill levels.
Mark George, CEO and president of the Music Institute of Chicago, says he hopes his organization and the music center’s partnership continues for many years to come.
“For evidence of our success, the proof is in the students,” George said.