Musical Mentors Collaborative, a student-run organization based primarily at Columbia, held their end-of-semester recital Saturday, December 15, to celebrate the progress of their students.
The organization seeks to provide free musical instruction and shares much in common with the famed El Sistema program of Venezuela, which provides free, high-quality orchestral instruction to students who might not otherwise have access to music lessons. Although the MMC differs from the El Sistema program primarily by emphasizing private lessons, “it’s the same idea of offering the opportunity to study music to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Julia Sayles, co-president, explains. The program is based on “believing that anybody can learn,” she continues, and “focusing on the process more than on the finished product.”
The MMC has recently gained visibility at Columbia for its outreach work. The network sources potential instructors from the University community and connects them with students who meet the criteria to participate in the program at local elementary school P.S. 145, located at 105th between Amsterdam and Columbus. The target demographic comprises elementary school students who qualify for the federal reduced lunch program.
At the beginning of each semester, MMC hosts an instrument fair during which students from P.S. 145 have the opportunity to hear instruments they might like to play. The relationships struck up from this initial screening process are often long term—“ A lot of our students have been with their instructors for upwards of three years,” says co-president Nisha Hollingsworth. Her own student has been with her for two years, beginning when she was just five years old.
Hollingsworth seeks to emulate the pedagogical techniques her instructor used when she was learning piano and styles the lessons in the same way. “I’ve been teaching her just regular piano technique; I don’t think I water it down or anything,” Hollingsworth says. “She’s reading actual music now—I’m even using the same books that I used when I started playing piano!”
Part of the success of these extended partnerships revolves around parental involvement, which the MMC requires of each potential student. “In terms of philosophy, it’s really important for parents to be involved in the music process,” says Sayles. “If the parent is sitting in the lesson, then the parent knows what the student is expected to be working on and also becomes familiar with musical terms, and with the music, and can really help with at-home practicing.”
Hollingsworth and Sayles are also working to extend their good efforts to other parts of New York and the world. “The Columbia branch is like our flagship chapter and is our largest by far,” Sayles says. “But we also have a chapter at the London School of Economics.” Next semester, they hope to have a branch running at NYU. “We have two girls down there working on getting a group of instructors going and on finding a school down there to pair with,” Sayles says. “So we are really looking to spread it to as many students as we can.”
This is part two in the series on student groups in the community. You can read part 1 about the Columbia Ballet Collaborative in the post The Ballet Goes to P.S. 175.
– Laura Booth, CC ’15