Alameda Music Project Succeeds

Learning a new language.


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Lorrie Murray teaches disadvantaged kids the transformative power of music.

Chris Duffey

Lorrie Murray slid her large, black sunglasses off her tired eyes, wedging the shades in her curly, blonde-and-red-streaked hair with a sigh.

“That’s the question that keeps me up at night.”

The founder and director of Alameda Music Project (www.AlamedaMusicProject.org) doesn’t want to talk about funding for the afterschool musical education program for underserved children at Alameda’s Maya Lin School.

In October 2013, the principal of Maya Lin came to Murray, wanting to fast-track the Alameda Music Project, which Murray had been developing since 2012. This January, nine months prior to Murray’s scheduled rollout, the arts magnet school offered the musicianship and instrument instruction program for about 50 students in 1st through 5th grades as a tuition-free, twice-weekly, afterschool-care option that promotes teamwork, discipline, and responsibility. It also helps students develop language skills through the guise of creating, rehearsing, and performing a youth ensemble choir concert for the public.

With the new semester starting in September, Murray is growing the program to add a twice-weekly string ensemble class that will begin with students creating paper violins to develop an understanding and respect for the instrument. However, as with most arts organizations, Murray struggles to fund the program while expanding it to aid more children. Murray does what she can; she’s thrifty, partners with local arts organizations, and foregoes a salary. However, she says, the fundraising struggles pale in comparison to the long-term benefits for the students and Alamedans. Though finances keep her from sleeping, she’d rather talk about the kids and their music.

“One student, Paloma, said, ‘I believe I can share my voice in public because of you.’ That happened in four months, two days a week, an hour each day. That’s transformative, irreversible. No one can take that away from her now.” It’s this confidence and self-esteem building brought upon by learning to sing and play a musical instrument that Murray hopes will help carry the children through life’s struggles.

“You see all these studies that—particularly African-American and Latino boys—by 4th grade, have already assessed where their life is headed and it’s not positive,” Murray said. “We’re trying to reverse that in some small way. They learn about routine, overcoming challenges, working with a group to solve a problem. They learn that their voice, and how they use it, is important.”

Murray hopes that the Alameda Music Project, inspired by El Sistema—a Venezuelan music philosophy program founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu—will mean one more Alameda voice affecting positive change throughout the community. She’s gambling on her community, but that’s a bet with the potential only for intangible, unknown rewards—it can be a hard sell to donors.

“I wish there was a way to bottle or explain what happened in those four months of choir,” Murray said. “What we started with was chaos, and what we ended with was a concert where kids gave the performance of their young lives.” There is one thing Murray can explain—lack of funding won’t cause her to skip a beat.

“Paloma is in the 5th grade. If I had waited back in January, she would never have had that opportunity. I don’t know if that’s enough, but if I sit here and wait for all the money to come in, that’s wasting time.”

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