Dubuque program helps all children have access to music

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) – With a smile, 9-year-old Naiyah Lee sat on the bench and put her hands on the keys of a black grand piano.

Her fingers began to wiggle and dance, producing the melody to her favorite song, “Twister”.

“It’s fun to play and easy to remember,” Naiyah said. “I love this one.”

Throughout the duration of the short performance, the smile never left her face.

Over the past two years, Naiyah has learned to play the piano at the Northeast Iowa School of Music in Dubuque. Part of the school’s mission is to make the joy of learning such an instrument accessible to as many people as possible, and for those in charge of the school, Naiyah is a sign of the success of this mission. Throughout her time at the school, Naiyah was also a recipient of a scholarship for low and moderate income students.

“Accessibility is very important to us,” said David Resnick, Dubuque City Council member and CEO of NISOM. “We have parents calling and saying they would like their kids to take classes, but it’s too expensive. These scholarships make these courses affordable.

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports that city council members voted unanimously last month to allocate $ 3,000 in community development grants to fund scholarships for low and moderate income students, continuing what has been years of commitment to the program by the city as part of its mission to promote recreation and the arts in the community.

While the appeal of music is universal, the ability of students to learn and play music on their own is not.


The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 9% of eighth-graders who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch under the national school meals program take private music lessons outside of school. , while 29% play a musical instrument outdoors on their own. from school.

This compares to 17% of eighth-graders who don’t qualify for the lunch program taking private lessons and 40% who play an instrument on their own.

Resnick, who voted in favor of earmarking funds for NISOM, said the school has partnered with the city and other private donors for several years to fund scholarships that make the courses affordable music for low-income residents and has attracted continued interest from students who wish to learn to play an instrument but cannot afford the traditionally high costs of music lessons.

A full year of school lessons, consisting of 36 30-minute lessons, costs $ 900. Resnick said the scholarships provided by NISOM can cut those costs in half.

While the city helps fund the scholarship program, local residents have also helped fund music education for low-income children outside the city limits.

In 2017, the Ryan Scholarship Fund was established in memory of Leroy and Marion Ryan, covering the full tuition fees of a student each year who was not taking private lessons for financial reasons.

No matter where the money comes from, scholarships offer residents the opportunity to play music that previously could not afford.

“For me, music is really important because I want to be able to make people happy and make them enjoy what I play,” said Brielle Richardson, 2020 Hempstead High School graduate, NISOM freshman and recipient. of a scholarship. “I really enjoy my classes at NISOM and I love learning new songs.”

This year, Resnick said that the school’s scholarship program covers the tuition fees of 17 students, or one-tenth of the total courses taught at the school.

Michelle Lawrence, Naiyah’s mother, said she was grateful that school allowed her daughter to start learning music at a young age.

“I think it’s great how they start them young,” Lawrence said. “It was really great for her.”

And while there is satisfaction in learning to play “Twister,” Resnick argued that students benefit from other ways of playing music at an early age. Several studies have shown that playing music can improve mathematical and spatiotemporal reasoning, while increasing overall academic performance.

“It’s clear that playing music is good for you,” Resnick said. “I think it’s important that we are able to deliver this potential advantage to everyone.”


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