City Songs strives for harmony

Elizabeth Giorgi

City Songs isn’t all singing and dancing.

Although the program focuses on singing and occasional performances, it also brings disadvantaged youths from around the Twin Cities together to create bonds, work toward bright futures and have an impact on the community.

The program is made possible through the work of University employees and student volunteers.

Founder and Executive Director Helen Kivnick works as a professor of social work at the University and started the program after researching the importance of music in African culture.

Kivnick said singing can play an important role in people’s lives and communities and can help to emphasize positive ideas.

“Music is potentially magical,” she said.

A person doesn’t necessarily have to be a very impressive singer in order to contribute to a larger group and make beautiful music, she said.

The program works on the idea that everyone is welcome, and there are no auditions required to be part of the group.

City Songs explores different areas of music as a means to discuss ideas such as racism and acceptance, she said.

Students are able to work on writing songs together, she said. One song performed during Tuesday’s practice, “Erase Racism,” was written by students in the program.

This summer the group will put out its third CD, Kivnick said.

The program also connects kids to the future, she said. By having University students as volunteers, the program is able to emphasize the importance of college. Children who might not have considered it before might see themselves as University students in the future.

“It’s about healthy youth development,” Kivnick said.

Family social science senior Emily Schmieg said she got involved in the program because she wanted to work with kids and she also loves singing.

“I feed off their energy,” she said.

She said college-student presence also is important for the children because it gives them a perspective on their future and role models to look up to.

“What’s awesome is that if (City Songs) is continued, then the kids will continue,” she said.

Fifth-grader Sadie McCoy said she has been in the program for three years.

The best parts of the program are the singing and dancing, she said, but students also learn about culture and other people’s races.

“You learn a lot of things from other people,” she said.

Music director Cheryl Reeves said the program looks at issues of race, peace and the way kids play a role in having a positive impact on the world.

The kids sing songs such as “Erase Racism” and “Love Train” to try to bring positive attention to those cultural issues.

“Our goal is to really build strong children through singing,” Reeves said.

Fourth-grader Dylan Odwyer Blcher has been kicked out of nearly every after school program he has been part of, Kivnick said.

Odwyer Blcher has autism and it causes him to have a hard time in various programs, Kivnick said. As part of Tuesday’s City Songs meeting, his mother came into practice to give a presentation on autism to help the children understand.

But through the program he has been able to change, Odwyer Blcher said.

“City Songs has really changed my habits,” he said.

Songs help people to understand feelings and to talk about peace, he said.

Through City Songs, Odwyer Blcher said he has developed a new hobby – singing.