These Miami music programs teach kids more than how to play instruments

·5 min read

At the age of 10, Starina D’Haiti came to the U.S. as a refugee in a military plane after her home country of Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. For two years her family lacked a permanent home, moving from one friend’s house to another. As her home and surroundings changed frequently, a constant in her life was the Miami Music Project.

“It’s home,” D’Haiti, 20, said of the Miami Music Project, which she credits with helping her get acclimated to American culture.

Founded in 2008, the Miami Music Project provides free after-school music education to under-resourced communities, as 96% of its students come from low-income households. Across five locations, the Miami Music project uses music to teach children foundational life skills that will help them not only in school but also in the workforce.

“To learn to play an instrument you have to put in hours and hours and struggle and frustration and more struggle,” says Anna Klimala, president of Miami Music Project. A double bass player with a master’s degree in music education, Klimala explains it’s the struggle that can be so beneficial. “It teaches you patience, determination, concentration, memory, all of these things which have nothing to do with music but everything to do with your success in life.”

Kayana Chataigne, 8, right, plays the flute during a Miami Music Project practice session at Carol City Elementary in Miami Gardens.
Kayana Chataigne, 8, right, plays the flute during a Miami Music Project practice session at Carol City Elementary in Miami Gardens.

Klimala’s belief in the change that music education can bring isn’t just based on her experiences as a musician. The Miami Music project, in conjunction with the Florida International University, conducted a three-year study looking at Miami Music Project’s programs. A few of the notable findings of the study were a 93% increase in effective communication, a 96% increase in self-motivation and a 92% increase in self-esteem among participants.

Among the Miami Music Project’s alumni, 100% of them have graduated from high school and 100% of them have gone on to some form of higher education. The program boasts alumni at schools such as Berklee College of Music in Boston and the University of Chicago.

Eduardo Chocron is one of those students. A 20-year-old immigrant from Venezuela, he arrived in the country speaking no English and is now a second-year student at Berklee.

“They kind of took me in,” Chocron said. “They led me to everything that has happened to me.”

Students play percussion during a Miami Music Project practice session at Carol City Elementary in Miami Gardens.
Students play percussion during a Miami Music Project practice session at Carol City Elementary in Miami Gardens.

Chocron also emphasized the leadership skills that music can teach. Unlike some, Chocron arrived knowing how to play his instrument, but the Miami Music Project pushed him to be a better musician.

“I became a concert master of their leaders’ orchestra,” he said. “They motivated me to lead and become a good leader; it was a good challenge for me.”

Like Chocron, the Miami Music project helped D’Haiti develop her leadership skills as well. Nearly a decade after her first lesson, D’Haiti now teaches cello for the Miami Music Project. “It kinda comes full circle,” she said.

Leadership, practice, patience

Another charity that focuses on music education is Young Musicians Unite. Founded by 35-year-old Sammy Gonzalez, the Miami nonprofit partners with middle schools that don’t have music programs. Through the partnership, Young Musicians Unite provides instruments and teachers to the school and helps them build a music program over a three-year period.

“We’re going to teach you how to do this, we’re going to onboard you and you slowly take ownership of the program,” Gonzalez said.

Although Gonzalez says the schools are the primary drivers of the program by year three, Young Musicians Unite continues to help with instrument repairs, field trip forms, fundraising and other administrative duties that can be taxing on teachers.

Young Musicians Unite Chief Operating Officer Zachary Larmer, fourth from left, attends a rehearsal of Jazz Collective, a jazz ensemble program at the Wynwood School of Music in Miami. The student musicians come from Young Musicians Unite, a Miami nonprofit.
Young Musicians Unite Chief Operating Officer Zachary Larmer, fourth from left, attends a rehearsal of Jazz Collective, a jazz ensemble program at the Wynwood School of Music in Miami. The student musicians come from Young Musicians Unite, a Miami nonprofit.

In addition to running the nonprofit, Gonzalez also runs a music school and works with particularly talented musicians from the Young Musicians Unite classes. Gonzalez espouses the same benefits of music education as Klimala: leadership, practice, patience and social skills.

Guerwen Gue, 16, was in sixth grade and had never considered playing an instrument until he took a class from Young Musicians Unite.

“I thought it was going to be like any other class where you just be on your phone and don’t really do anything,” Gue said. “But the first class blew me away. I thought these people are so talented and they are here to perform for us.”

Although initially skeptical, five years later Gue is able to list the ways music has helped him.

“I have been able to better myself socially, have better grades, be a better reader...and be nice to people,” Gue said. “I realized first impressions really matter.”

Jazz Collective trumpet player Gabriel Johnson, left, and trombonist Andre Perlman rehearse at the Wynwood School of Music in Miami. The students are part of the Young Musicians Unite program.
Jazz Collective trumpet player Gabriel Johnson, left, and trombonist Andre Perlman rehearse at the Wynwood School of Music in Miami. The students are part of the Young Musicians Unite program.

Gue previously thought he would work at a fast food restaurant after high school; he is now planning on being the first person in his family to go to college.

He has a scholarship to Interlochen Center for the Arts, a prestigious music program in Michigan, and hopes to transfer to The Juilliard School in New York one day. After that, he hopes to come back to Miami and give back to those that helped him.

How to help

Miami Music Project

Website: https://miamimusicproject.org/

Email: info@miamimusicproject.org

Instagram: @miamimusicproject

To donate to The Miami Music Project, click on the “Donate” tab on the left-hand corner of their website.



Young Musicians Unite

Website: https://www.youngmusiciansunite.org/

Email: Info@youngmusiciansunite.org

Instagram: @youngmusicianunite

To donate to Young Musicians Unite, click on the “Donate Now” tab on the top right corner.

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