Thanks to JRP writing volunteer Clyde, who wrote this article for SAPPA (www.sappa.net).
Carlos Arredondo’s sons, aged nine and twelve, are very much like other boys growing up in Compton, California. They go to school, do homework, play with friends, and help out around the house. But they also do something that a lot of other kids might not: they play with the Watts Youth Symphony, one of several programs established by SAPPA—the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy based in Pasadena, which began operation in 2002.
Carlos’ sons were introduced to the Watts Youth Symphony and SAPPA through their oldest son’s teacher three years ago and he and his brother took to the opportunity to play immediately. Carlos’ oldest son now plays both the cello and the saxophone and his younger brother plays the guitar. The boys are so involved in their music, Carlos notes, “they are now playing very complicated music after only a few years – Verdi, Vivaldi – big pieces! The boys get along so well and one of the reasons is that they love to play music,” Carlos also reports with pride. “They look for music on the Internet they can download and then play together.”
Most fathers would encourage their sons to go into sports, but Carlos notes that the cost of competitive sports has become prohibitive for the family, while the opportunity to play in the Watts Youth Symphony involves no cost to the family. Instruments and instruction are provided free of charge and are part of SAPPA’s nonprofit budget.
SAPPA was initially created to provide training for youngsters interested in competing for music and arts scholarships. It soon grew into a music workshop program, reintroducing basic musical skills into communities with little or no music education opportunities. The program focuses on areas like Compton with high percentages of at-risk youngsters who are often not able to afford formal music training, thus being denied the proper introduction into the world of art and music and its many benefits.
The Watts Youth Symphony draws approximately 100 students from seven sites in the South Los Angeles area. Given drastic budget cuts in music and the arts in many public schools in Los Angeles, many of these students at elementary and middle school level would not be receiving the dedicated musical instruction and opportunities to play in performance together they receive in the Watts Youth Symphony. “It used to be that our kids across the city got training in the early grades, and once they showed up for high school, they were ready to join a band or orchestra really knowing their instrument,” explains Billy Mitchell, Executive Director of SAPPA and a noted jazz musician himself. “That just isn’t happening anymore, and by the time they hit high school, it’s nearly impossible to bring new musicians up to the speed they need to be for a high school marching band or orchestra.” Consequently, Mitchell points out, many students will be missing the opportunity to gain traction in music in high school, thereby missing key opportunities college and later in a musical performance or teaching career.
Carlos Arredondo’s entire family benefits from the boys’ involvement; now their three-year-old sister is interested in learning music, and Carlos and his wife love hearing their sons play. Carlos become emotional when he mentions that his sons are less likely to be drawn to gang activity thanks to their music: “They’ve found friends of the same age with the same interests” and are unlikely to sacrifice that for membership in a gang. Carlos is also impressed by the teachers who mentor the young students in the Symphony: “I found angels with instruments willing to teach my children,” he declares almost tearfully.
If you are interested in becoming one of these “angels” either through volunteering or donating the cost of an instrument, or if you would like to recommend your own child for SAPPA mentorship, please contact Billy Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (626)-793-8706.