The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Nov 28, 2012


Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Steve Klotz, Embrace Music Foundation

Three sessions into the 9-week program, the budding percussion ensemble of 35 teenagers from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami has jelled at record speed.  According to “Reggae Ambassador” Willie Stewart -- Knight Arts Challenge grantee, and former co-director and master percussionist in the world renowned band Third World -- the troupe has achieved a level of learning and performance in three weeks that usually requires five to six.  The children are attentive, motivated, and mature beyond their years.

Workshop #3 at Coconut Grove’s Virrick Park with Willie Stewart conducting

While the presence of the children’s mentors contributes to their capacity to relax and concentrate, it is also likely that the program’s pace and structure have a positive impact.  Each weekly 2½ -hour session has a 20-minute break during which an invited visitor addresses the children for a few moments, engaging them in a dialog about their activities, career plans, and emotional level.  Thus far, “inspirational speakers” have included Embrace Music Foundation Board member and NBC attorney Lisa Hughes, pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Azan, and Fannie Mae attorney Kathy Rentas.

Independently, all three voiced a similar theme: that despite apparent limitations imposed by circumstances that render these youngsters the “at-risk” designation, their potential and ambition are sufficient to propel them to success.  The two attorneys cited their own backgrounds and efforts, mirroring those of the children, in effect presenting themselves as examples -- mentors -- and describing their own journeys in terms of selecting a goal for themselves and remaining focused on it until its achievement.

Dr. Azan, speaking as much as to the adults as the children, noted studies that confirmed beneficial neurological effects as an outcome of activities such as making music and working in a team.  When asked, children unanimously agreed that their intense Sunday musical workshops made them feel good: Dr. Azan told them they were also doing themselves good in terms of emotional health and cognitive development.

In fact, literally all participants at these workshops -- students, spectators, teachers, visitors -- experience a tremendous sense of pleasure and achievement at the session’s conclusion.

Participants will meet weekly, then perform at the Adrienne Arsht Center at its Family Fest concert on January 12.  The public can support this program by visiting Embrace Music Foundation’s crowdfunding  campaign site.

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