Chatter fills the room as an assortment of about 60 elementary, middle and high students of the Young Musicians of Alamance program unpack their instruments in First Reformed United Church. The program serves children in Title 1 schools across Alamance county by providing music education.
While the group’s main focus is teaching music, it also provides social support.
“To people looking in, what we do is we teach kids how to play music. What we really do is teach them social skills,” Program Coordinator Beryl Aldeberan said.
The YMA, established in 2016, was inspired by a program called El Sistema in Venezuela. El Sistema provides free music education for kids in areas where families struggle to provide that education. YMA imitates the values of El Sistema by providing students in Alamance County with a strong support system.
“The main thrust of the program is to serve children who attend Title 1 schools. Those are schools that provide 85% or more free lunches to children,” Aldeberan said. She said that approximately 90% of the kids in YMA attend Title 1 schools.
Aldeberan discussed the resources available to the students such as their own instrument. She said music education is important in a child’s development, especially for younger children.
The program partners with community music groups such as a local steel drum group and Elon University. Currently, YMA is partnering with the Hawfield Jammers, a North Carolina dulcimer group, for a concert on Saturday, Oct. 19.
YMA also caters hot, healthy lunches and snacks during lessons in order to alleviate possible food insecurity.
“On the outside it looks like cute kids playing violins, but what we’re really doing is giving them a step up or opening a door that wouldn’t be open for them in their present circumstances,” Aldeberan said.
In its first year, YMA taught five to seven students. According to Aldeberan, the number of students in the program this year reached over 60, which is double its membership from last year.
With the influx of students, YMA finds itself in need of volunteer teachers, cooks, marketing assistants and general helpers. The large number of students complicates the planning process for lunches, bathroom breaks and tuning all the instruments, especially for the younger children.
“The biggest challenge has been getting enough time for some of the younger kids because you really have to go through and be explaining and have their attention,” said Shelley Realini, board member and volunteer. “It’s good to be able to break out into smaller groups when possible.”
Despite the spike in membership, the program still aims to gather more members. Aldeberan said she wants to take the transition slowly and improve upon what the program already does.
“We want to expand and grow and do lots of new and exciting things, but we want to do it rationally with a plan,” Aldeberan said.
Music teaching artist Sara Realini, Shelley’s daughter, agrees with Aldeberan and said she wants to see the program grow its presence. Sara said she would love for YMA to become more visible in the community. A study, conducted recently, found that 70% of the community did not recognize YMA.
“To some degree, it comes with time and getting ourselves really stable and letting people know that we’re here,” Sara said. “So much of Alamance County doesn’t know we’re here.”
Several people currently involved with the program found it through family or school connections.
Students Wilmer Gomez and Ryan Smith joined because of recommendations from their friends.
Sara discovered YMA after playing Christmas songs during a volunteer position at North Graham Elementary School. Her mother joined the program as a board member and a volunteer during Sara’s involvement.
According to Shelley, kids involved in the program often bring in younger siblings, which creates the age diversity.
“It’s great to have a good mix of younger up through the older kids. It helps with sound, which is a little more advanced for the older kids,” Shelley Realini said. She also mentioned the benefits of having older students teach younger students the importance of practicing and working hard.
YMA tries to make music a real possibility for the children of Alamance County, but it does so much more than that.
“There are so many social causes and so many things that are wrong with the world, and this is just our little corner of trying to help these kids get a leg up,” Aldeberan said.