Voices of Harmony, Part 2

The Kids of Harmony Project

Harmony Project, a Los Angeles-based organization with national affiliates dedicated to music education for youth in low-income communities, has been recognized as one of the most effective arts-based youth interventions in the nation. The Spirit of Harmony Foundation is proud to be a partner in their live-changing efforts. Students involved in Harmony Project logoprograms wrote heartfelt essays about their experiences as part of a scholarship competition. The staff of Harmony Project has shared them with us, and from time to time Music In A Word will post several of them. The first installment appeared a  few months ago.  Photos are courtesy of Harmony Project and are not necessarily the authors of the essay in which they appear — AM.

Life is not easy, but it allows one to have a choice of which path to follow and how to follow it. I am a determined, competitive, and an organized person who enjoys challenging herself. Music has been my guiding force throughout my life, because in life there is only moving forward and my main focus is my future education. My talents, qualities, experiences andjor contributions to the person I am today are surrounded by the music I play. I currently play the flute, piccolo, bass drums and cymbals. Music gives me a way to express myself when words are inadequate.

11088463654_b271cc44af_zI come from a family of five. I am Salvadoran-American, but my parents and older siblings were born in El Salvador. I was born in the United States which has provided both blessing and challenges. My family struggled while living in the same studio apartment for twenty-four years. I saw how my siblings had to work and put college aside, to help provide to the family income. From their struggles, I have learned to appreciate the opportunities I am given. Music has helped me strengthen my determination in school and try harder in doing things such as studying and completing my homework.

Since I began playing flute in the third grade, I have not put it down. I am training hard to master my instruments. The “Harmony Project,” a non-profit organization has given me the opportunity to teach others how to play the flute and to be a mentor in a positive environment.! have also been a private flute student, a group student and a member of the orchestra.

Music, has taught me that nothing is impossible. My parent’s separation has not hampered my aspirations in music or life. I have learned to mature and become independent in order to overcome our family poverty and family separation. Engineering is my new challenge and aspiration. I want to be the first in my family to graduate from university and music has prepared me to overcome obstacles and succeed in what I believe in. Boldness shows genius, power and magic. Music in its own way has made me bold.

Hardships are what shapes one’s character,making a person the special and unique person they are today. One must not settle for comparisons, but strive toward being the best that can be. Everyone has choices in determining their future, nothing should be considered impossible. Impossible is an unknown factor in life. This idea of determination is useful as a young adult and throughout life I have kept myself busy and enthusiastic to achieve my goals. My determination to succeed will allow me to strive and accomplish them. I will be the first in my family to graduate from a university. I will succeed in what I believe in, because nothing is impossible.

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Throughout my nine years as a student at the Harmony Project, I’ve accomplished much more than I ever imagined I’d be capable of. From playing the third movement of Hummel’s Trumpet concerto in its entirety, playing some of the best music ever written with the Hollywood Youth Orchestra, to being a mentor with the Harmony Project’s mentorship program, my experiences through the Harmony Project have been nothing short of extraordinary. It is these experiences that have influenced me to be the person I am today.

Growing up in a low-income family prevented my siblings and I from taking part in many activities. My family wouldn’t have had access to musical education beyond that provided at school for my siblings, or myself, had it not been for the Harmony Project. The program not only provided quality musical instruction, but it also removed the invisible barrier that had previously been set; Even if my family wasn’t as fortunate as others, I could still prove to everyone, and to myself, that I was more than capable of doing what I wanted. The greatest example of this would be when I was chosen to play “Simple Gifts” at one of the annual donor events, held at the Skirball Center, at the age of 12. That was the first time I had played a solo piece in front of a large amount of people, and the first time I played with the Hollywood Youth Orchestra.

Experiences like these have encouraged me to challenge myself in as many ways as possible. Challenges such as enrolling in and self-studying AP courses, such as AP Calculus and AP Computer Science, and completing the LA Marathon with the Students Run LA program, have all been influenced by the many successes I’ve had through the Harmony Project. I would have never given the idea of running a marathon a thought, nor would I have taken the challenge of AP courses, if I hadn’t experienced success. Success against all odds, through the Harmony Project.

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Without Harmony Project and its spectrum of programs, I would not be the person and musician that I am today. I started the program during my later years of middle school and have participated since. Not only has the staff seen me grow and mature, but also I have seen myself grow and mature. I started the program not knowing anyone. I consider myself to be quite introverted, but being at Harmony Project changed it all; it changed me. Now, although I am not loud and obnoxious I am not afraid to speak up or have my voice heard, or even have my music heard. I was always being told to “play out” because I was insecure about my sound. The insecurity of my music playing was a reflection of who I was as a person. However, since joining the Harmony Project, not only has my sound and tone improved but so has my personality.

11088358256_ae2f4ac54f_zThe Harmony Project has given me more than just free lessons, instruments, and ensembles. I have received free life lessons and advice, unasked support from the wonderful staff, and another guidance counselor. Basically, the Harmony Project provide me with another family that is musically talented.

Not only has Harmony Project enhanced my musical talents but it has also enhanced my personality. For the last few years, I have committed myself to several extra curricular programs. I have been a part of the Hip-Hop Orchestra conducted by Diane Louie, which trained my ear, the Jazz Band with Amos Delone where I got to explore soloing. I was also given the opportunity to partake in the first Harmony Project Academy where I was taught music history, theory, and ensemble playing. I am currently part of the Hollywood Youth Orchestra as well as a mentor. Mentoring has truly made me see another side to music. Not only did I become a teacher but a mentor, my job is to lead by example and inspire my mentee. Becoming a mentor has made me double think my actions as in what I say and do.

At times my schedule has been hectic and full but because I bit off more than I can chew, I learned the value of budgeting my time, as well as being able to make executive decisions that will ultimately benefit me in the end. As children we tend to always depend or rely on our parents, but in this case I wanted to rely on myself with my mother’s support. Having to decide which classes to add or drop, whether to continue with a certain teacher or not- all of these experiences have benefited me and have helped me mature on many levels. At Harmony Project we are not treated as children but as respected musicians. The values the community encompasses have made an impact in my life that it has become part of my values.

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My hands have helped me mesmerize different audiences in distinguished music venues sponsored by the Harmony Project. They have allowed me to play alongside Stevie Wonder and Juanes at the Hollywood Bowl during my summer breaks. These events taught me the importance of using hands to build bridges to connect two distinct cultures and ideals. It was during both concerts when performance not only met art but also created a connection with the social class sitting in the most expensive seats.

My hands have also helped me land one spot among ten to play in London for a music symposium supported by the Harmony Project. After arduous nights of practicing inside the consolidated walls of my parents’ bedroom, I remember taking control of my instrument during the audition process. After my hands and I found out we were going to London just four months later, we started an assiduous rehearsal routine. This experience allowed my hands and me to discover the true power of practicing inside the practice rooms of the world-renowned Walt Disney Concert Hall. After endless nights of practicing, I remembered to use my hands to connect the British audience with fragments of my life told through the sound of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet in the famed stage of the Barbican Hall four months later.

9248341039_510be26667_zBut behind the curtains, my hands have helped me embrace my roots because of the opportunities Harmony Project has provided me. My morning and school routine are complemented by my afternoon routine of Harmony Project orchestral rehearsals in South L.A., a world apart from Pacific Palisades. During these practice sessions, I play my violin with kids who have dreams bigger than what our income status can provide. In the beginning, I remember originally thinking poorly of the group I now call mi otra familia. As I walk to my rehearsal room with my violin in my hand, I constantly hear the vernacular of this region-Spanglish. “La maestra gave us too much homework,” my peers say. After years of being in mostly Caucasian schools, the shock of listening to both Spanish and English being used in the same sentence caused unease. But today, my hands embrace them with hugs every time I see them for the first time at any given day. Their freedom of expression has unraveled the freedom that was once trapped inside my own skin.

My hands remind me to build bridges and stepping stones wherever I may go. My hands have also helped me struggle and endure the tackles of balancing academia and my extracurricular activities. Whether I’m playing in the EXPO practice rooms on a bright and early Saturday morning or I’m designing the school’s literary arts magazine at home, I am constantly reminding myself to inject passion into everything I do.

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