The Magic of Music
by Emma Grover
From May 9th through May 25th, students of Oakland International High School will participate in the first in-school music class as part of their post-session program delivered by ARTogether. But things were different last fall, when we first started our Music Club there.
Classes are adjourned, and the sound of chattering students quiets, making room for something unexpected; the notes of musical instruments coming from the high school’s cafeteria. “In the beginning, I would just play music and wait for students to be drawn to the stage – like the pied piper,” Nick Kanozik, ARTogether’s Music and Artistic Director, recalls. Meanwhile, sitting at the cafeteria’s tables are members of the high school’s after school assistance program. They catch the familiar notes of a Colombian pop song, look up from their papers, and begin to sing along. Soon, the cafeteria is transformed into a space where everyone is welcome, filled with the joyful sounds of music and song.
Building the Music Club community was no easy feat. When Nick first arrived at Oakland International High School the performance stage was a disaster. Underneath an eclectic array of theater props, worn boxes, forgotten items and trash, Nick discovered musical instruments tucked away in pockets of clutter like in an iSpy game; guitars thrown on top of file cabinets, scattered pieces of a drum set, random microphones, and broken music stands. With ARTogether’s help, the stage was cleared and made anew. After purchasing and setting up new instruments, restringing guitars, organizing cables, etc, the Music Club finally found its home.
Now, the students meet on the stage on Tuesdays and Fridays. Every week, Nick asks them, “What do you want to play today?” The answer is always eclectic, ranging from Yemeni songs, Vietnamese lullabies, latin pop tunes, to Christmas songs. After they collectively decide on the song, Nick quickly transcribes and simplifies it on the spot and teaches the students on drums, piano, guitar, or bass. “OIHS is 100% English second language, but the reality is that many students don’t speak a word of English and they come from all over the world. It is not uncommon to have a music class where students are all speaking separate languages, whether Amharic, Spanish, Arabic, Tigrinya, or English .. we can hardly speak to each other, but we still come together to make music”.
“You just see their eyes light up!” Nick shares with me. Suddenly, students can recreate songs from their childhood or melodies they’ve heard on the radio. “I can’t describe the experience in words.”
What makes Music Club unique is that it gives students the opportunity to be a part of something they’ve never been a part of before. For Ernesto*, a recipient of the Music Club scholarship and a talented musician, Music Club has become a community of people who wholeheartedly believe in his potential. Born and raised in Guatemala, Ernesto moved to the U.S. and started attending Oakland International High school in November of 2021. From the beginning, it was clear to Nick that Ernesto had a musical gift. He played the school guitar beautifully. Since he didn’t own an instrument he came to the music class every single meeting until, in mid-January, he suddenly dropped out of school.
After realizing that there wasn’t much investigation into Ernesto’s situation, Nick reached out to him and wanted to support in a way he knew would be meaningful. He then brought Ernesto to Guitar Center and told him to pick out any guitar he wanted. Ernesto was shocked, realizing how much Nick believed in him and his talent. Shortly after, ARTogether sponsored Ernesto for a music scholarship. As a recipient, Ernesto would get to meet with a Spanish-speaking guitar instructor once every two weeks and participate in regular check-ins. After encouragement, as of early May, Ernesto re-enrolled in school.
The Music Club is continuing to evolve and grow, Nick shared with me. With help from a few other teachers, Oakland International High School will host its very first in-school music class from May 9th thru May 25th. Students are excited to go on field trips, learn how to read music, and play new instruments. While the Music Club’s journey is inspiring in itself, I can think of no better way to reveal the heart of ARTogether than Nick’s promise to the students of Oakland International High School: “I believe in you.”
*Names in this article have been changed for anonymity.