People’s Music School offers free music lessons behind class, giving students access to the arts

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BACK OF THE YARDS – Oliver Munoz doesn’t just teach kids how to be musicians. Through violin lessons, students learn to master the instrument, while learning organization, discipline, and other skills necessary for success in school.

For 45 years, this has been the mission of popular music school, a city-wide after-school program for children ages 5 to 18 who otherwise may not have access to music lessons or the equipment needed to learn an instrument.

The People’s Music School has a main campus in Uptown that offers daily after-school programs, as well as partner schools in Back of the Yards, Albany Park and Bronzeville. This allows children to attend directly without leaving their neighborhood, said Lilly Torres, facilities manager at People’s Music School.

Although it is a music school, the nonprofit is not just concerned with recruiting musicians. Rather, its goal is to empower students who otherwise couldn’t afford lessons to learn an instrument and the skills that come with it, Torres said.

Torres said she brought students back and the program taught them discipline, organization and public speaking, which helped them in other areas. A handful of students went on to study music in college and beyond.

Ariel Garcia, who started as a violin teacher in 2016 and is now in charge of the community, said he hears a lot of positive feedback from parents. A parent told Garcia that she awarded her son’s college scholarship to the skills he learned at People’s Music School.

“She said, ‘Look, as a parent it wasn’t easy, and there were a couple of times he wanted to quit, but I really pushed him,” “Garcia said. “And then it came out that he was going [California Institute of Technology] on a stock exchange.

Students perform at a spring 2018 concert at the Agustin Lara Academy in Back of the Yards.
Brown Dog Productions / Supplied

“I don’t think we would be able to do it any other way”

Torres worked at the People’s Music School for over 20 years, starting as an office manager. A native of Little Village, Torres did not say anything as the program was available to her as a child.

“When I was first exposed to any kind of music it was when I started working at school,” she said.

As an active mother of two, Torres said she relates to some of the parents in the program who were wondering how they could give their children access to music lessons and instruments without the popular music program.

“They work and they commute with their kids, and it’s amazing because they always tell me, ‘I don’t think we would be able to do this any other way,'” she said.

Munoz teaches his violin and viola lessons for the program at Agustin Lara Academy, 4637 S. Wolcott Ave. at Back of the Yards.

Munoz comes from Chile. He said his own experience of struggling to receive a quality music education prompted him to seek an educational program like the People’s Music School after moving to Chicago five years ago.

“I think people who are exposed to music education and learning an instrument will live richer lives and be happier,” said Munoz, who taught with the program for three years.

At Lara’s, Munoz said he works with many children from Spanish-speaking immigrant households. As a Latin American and Spanish speaker, he said he hoped he could be a “familiar presence” for families who may not have had music education or maintenance experience. equipment.

Credit: The popular music school / Supplied
Cello students perform at the Agustin Lara Academy in Back of the Yards.
The popular music school / Supplied

“The financial barriers do not stop there”

Garcia, who grew up in Little Village, said he started taking violin lessons as a child through a program at his school. He went on to a master’s degree in music.

Now Garcia has said he’s finishing his thesis to earn a doctorate in musical arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – the highest degree a family member has earned.

“I was very, very lucky to have had the parents that I had, because they had the ‘do what you want, as long as you do it right’ mentality,” Garcia said.

But even with supportive parents and a musical background, Garcia said “the financial barriers don’t end there.”

Once he studied music in college, Garcia saw disparities in resources between students and inclusion in the field, he said. He once performed in a recital with a student who allegedly has an $ 80,000 violin.

“I play over there with this kid whose parents own a mansion in California, and my instrument was, you know, a good instrument, but it was the best I could afford,” Garcia said.

Garcia said there has been more discussion within western classical music about pipeline issues and the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, and he hopes to continue that conversation with his work at the People’s. Music School.

“Ultimately what we’re trying to do, through music, is give kids these lifelong skills so that whether it’s music, medicine, law or whatever. ‘they want to do, they will be in place,’ Garcia said.

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