The meaning of music

An after-school program is saving Tulsa’s youth, one song at a time.



Harmony Project Tulsa’s master teaching artists, Kathy Rad and Michael Nicholson, teach after-school music lessons to students ages 4-10. Studies have shown that programs like HPT improve children’s cognitive abilities and their social, psychological and academic skills.

Evan Taylor

It’s no secret that arts in public schools are at risk — and so are many of the students. 

One local organization is on a mission to bring music back to local schools, while helping students who might need music the most.

Harmony Project Tulsa (HPT) is an after-school mentoring program that provides violins, cellos and music lessons to more than 50 local students ages 4-10. 

“They have a place to stay until after dinner,” says Kathy Rad, HPT program director and one of two master teaching artists for the program. “They get all their homework done, practice on their instruments and many get nourishment free of charge.” 

Started in 2001 by Dr. Margaret Martin in Los Angeles, Harmony Project has served thousands of low-income youth and has been awarded numerous accolades, including two awards from President Barack Obama.

Tulsa became one of seven Harmony Project affiliate cities about two years ago, when Rad was education outreach director for the Tulsa Symphony. She was alarmed by the number of music programs being cut in local schools and launched HPT in response.

“She is one of the most dedicated musicians — but dedicated to kids,” says Kathy LaFortune, HPT board member.

Harmony Project Tulsa students performed for more than 900 people at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma’s April 2015 “Empty Bowls” fundraiser. Photo by Nathan Harmon Photography.

 

The reasons behind Rad’s passion are the life-changing benefits of programs like HPT that have little to do with music itself. 

Music programs are proven to improve students’ academic performance, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Education Statistics

A study by Dr. Nina Kraus, principal investigator at the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University, found that over time, learning music forges the development of the brain and nervous system in a way that improves students’ ability to learn and comprehend language. Music also improves a student’s ability to listen in a noisy environment and decipher important information.

“There are so many benefits academically from doing this, and, of course, the social benefits,” Rad says. “We’re not out to make Carnegie Hall musicians, but some of them could be.”

“Music is what kept me focused and grounded,” says Michael Nicholson, who is passing on those gifts as an HPT master teaching artist. “Even before I decided to make my career out of music, it was something that made me excited to get up and go to school. 

“Getting these kids at a young age, like we do, sets them up for higher concentration, focus and commitment.”

There is no shortage of interest in HPT; Rad says there is a perpetual waiting list. 

“Every school I go to actually wants to have this program at their school, too. They want it. We just have to find a way to make it happen,” says Rad, who also teaches orchestra at Will Rogers High School and four elementary schools. “We’d like this to be replicated in as many places as possible. First, in every school in Tulsa Public Schools as an after-school program.”

The challenge is funding.

HPT is supported, in part, by the Tulsa Symphony and the George Kaiser Family Foundation. It is in the process of becoming a stand-alone nonprofit. 

LaFortune, for one, believes the investment in HPT is essential. 

“We have these underserved children who are not able to focus and not able to concentrate” because many times their basic needs are not met, she says. “They get behind early on, and they’re not able to catch up. What Harmony Project does through music is it forces the brain to listen to those around you, which improves social, psychological and academic skills. 

“It is not just another music program. It’s a mentoring program that utilizes music to help these kids develop their brains.”

 

Visit www.harmonyprojecttulsa.org for more information on the organization and upcoming events.

 

 

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