September, 2010, The Monthly
The East Bay has long been a hotbed of musical talent. Heck, Berkeley and Oakland alone have produced famous musicians the likes of Keyshia Cole, Dave Brubeck, Michael Franti, Joshua Redman, Sheila E., and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. All these folks discovered their vocal or instrumental vibe here, honing their chops until they were ready to release their sensational sounds into the world.
Maybe your kid will be next.
But even if you aren’t counting on your child becoming a superstar, there are many benefits to providing him or her with a musical education. Experts say that learning and practicing music allows all kinds of skills to develop in a youngster’s malleable brain, including spatial-temporal reasoning, logical thinking, and self-confidence.
One-on-one lessons are a time-honored form of instruction. But don’t overlook group training, perhaps in conjunction with private lessons, as a fun, effective way to introduce or supplement skills. The East Bay abounds with quality after-school programs that expose kids to everything from classical to rock. So whether your child is a true beginner or already has some experience, there’s sure to be a program that will light his or her inspiration.
Grade-schoolers don’t usually perform at clubs. But after an eight-week session in the BandWorks program—which matches musicians at the same levels of experience with a professional musician and teacher—newly minted rockers can show off what they’ve learned at local venues like Ashkenaz Music and Dance Community Center in Berkeley.
“Music offers a chance to transcend the everyday, the mundane,” says Jeremy Steinkoler, BandWorks co-founder and co-director. “We give our students a chance to be part of something bigger as well—a band.”
Steinkoler started the BandWorks program with Steve Gibson in 1993, out of a mutual impulse to provide a way for their private students to jam. First setting up shop at a women’s shelter in Berkeley, they eventually made Jack London Square their headquarters, with classes conducted all over the Bay Area.
“When I’m doing my job well, I’m inspiring my students to improve their skills, try something they haven’t tried before,” says Steinkoler, a professional drummer who plays in several bands.
BandWorks classes run for eight weeks, and each child is encouraged to take risks: solo, sing, and experiment with finding his or her musical voice. On the way, the kids learn to understand song forms and the importance of a band’s musical dynamics. Interested beginners are welcome, although most students have basic skills on an instrument.
“On the one hand, we bring kids together to play music,” Steinkoler says. “But on a deeper level, we offer them a chance to gain self-esteem, and work cooperatively toward a common goal. In a way, the music is the means for building community.”
Imagine. Not only can an after-school music program help your child develop technical skills, but it can also help her see that she’s part of a larger, harmonious whole. As Michael Franti puts it: “A little bit of rhythm makes the world go ’round.” Given the stressful, sometimes fragmented lives that most of us—children included—lead these days, perhaps that’s the most important music lesson of all.