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Save the music: Zumix keeps sound alive for the next next great generation

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 4, 2011 08:51 AM

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zumixboston.jpgBy Angela Stefano

In grammar school and high school, art classes, music classes, and, for a time, music lessons were just another part of my (and many 20-somethings’) weekly routine. Although I discovered I wasn’t very good at creating either, I learned enough to appreciate them both; in turn, the creative side exposed in those classes found writing, and, eventually, I decided to become a journalist. Although that example may seem relatively small and insignificant, it’s a tiny bit of proof that arts program influence young lives in many, many ways.

That influence is what makes East Boston’s Zumix so important in today’s world of arts funding cuts. The program for pre-teens and high schoolers gives its participants the chance to dabble in all sorts of music-related fields -- instrumental music, songwriting, music technology, and radio, for example -- “but also [gives them] a safe space and the right type of tools to express themselves,” said Program Director Kim Dawson.

“[Back in the early ‘90s, when Zumix was founded], there were two of the worst years of [youth] violence in the city,” Dawson said. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of non-profit organizations and after-school programs like there are now. [Our founders] felt a need to respond to that.”

On Wednesday, Zumix was announced as one of 12 national winners of the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the United States’ highest honor for youth art programs, which “recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self-discovery, and achievement,” according to the award’s website. Chosen from a pool of nearly 500 applicants, the winners received a $10,000 grant and met Michelle Obama at the White House to accept the award.

“This award recognizes that Zumix is making an important contribution to the youth we serve and to our community,” the organization said in an announcement. “By engaging youth in music and the arts, we’re building critical learning skills that help them succeed in school and in life.”

Zumix runs three sets of programs each year -- spring, summer, and fall -- to maximize the number of participants while still allowing them “enough time to be able to work both broadly and deeply in a program area,” Dawson said. “They can learn the basics of a program and a software, but then also really have the time to be able to explore it” and work towards a final project, like a public performance or working in a studio.

The program’s goal is not to turn every graduate into a professional musician; rather, “our goal is to make them into the best possible people they can be,” Dawson said. “We use music as the hook to being able to do that.” While some students do go on to study music, many choose other related paths, like music therapy and audio engineering, or go onto something entirely different, like law.

Although Zumix hasn’t been directly affected by any arts funding cuts, except that they’ve seen “fewer grants with fewer dollars and more people applying for them,” said Program Director Kim Dawson, they understand the importance of keeping their program going. Donations, grants, and awards like the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award "will help us make the case that Zumix is a critical part of the investment we’re making in the future of our youth and our community," the press release said.

Additionally, Zumix is always looking for volunteers, from musicians who want to teach a class to those who want to be involved on the organizational side. “We base the opportunities around the person, and what they’re working for and what we could give them,” Dawson said. “We just try to find the right fit.” They also occasionally offer individual adult lessons and host free community events.

“The best way we like people to get involved is to just...come to the events and be our friends,” Dawson said. “We want to get to know them.”

About Angela -- It's "Ang," if you please -- or, alternately, Bill, Penny Lane, or (begrudgingly) Angus to some. I've been with TNGG since the site started and am now the TNGG Boston editor for Boston.com. I graduated from Boston University's College of Communication in 2009 and am a huge fan of live music, hockey, and Thai food. I'm also a bit of a klutz, but that's only because my mind and body are always going in approximately a zillion separate directions. Twitter: @amstefano988

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