U student starts music foundation to teach inner-city kids

Liz Kohman

It was a bright, sunny Tuesday afternoon, but instead of playing, six energetic children sat on the carpeted floor of the Rondo Community Education center ready to learn about the fundamentals of music.

The children are taking piano lessons through the Newell Hill Foundation – an organization created by University junior Newell Hill with the goal of bringing music to inner-city youth.

Hill started giving lessons at Minneapolis’ Rondo Community Education center in September.

“I’m glad he came to me first, and someone else didn’t snatch him up,” said Chauntyll Allen, after-school coordinator at the community center.

Allen’s daughter is one of the students in the program. Allen said she wouldn’t be able to offer music lessons to her child without Hill’s foundation. Her daughter is excited about the program and talks about it every day, Allen said.

The idea for the foundation came to Hill while baby-sitting for two children. The younger girl wanted to learn how to play the piano, but her mother didn’t have the time or money for lessons.

So Hill began teaching her, and he realized this was a way to help other children in her position.

“Music itself is such a great thing,” Hill said. “You can express your identity through it.”

Hill said learning to play the piano also helps children build self-esteem.

He funded the foundation with money earned working as a ski instructor, blackjack dealer and Boston Market employee. He also raised money selling CDs of music he composed and fixing up and reselling donated pianos.

All the preparation is worthwhile, Hill said, because of the satisfaction of working with children and seeing everything come together.

Although he has only taught three lessons to six students at Rondo, he is recruiting more students and plans to form two classes with eight students. Next year Hill plans to add string instruments to the lessons and eventually start an orchestra.

Although Hill has a clear vision for the future of his foundation, he said he has struggled to get public support and money to carry out his goals.

For now, students – and the teachers – are learning as they go.

Hill continually praises and offers encouragement to the students: “This is hard … you’re doing great … we’re getting it.”

The children meet with Hill and another teacher, Betsy Tempel, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. They eat a snack and then begin the lessons.

One teacher plays games with the group, working on different aspects of music theory, while the other teacher works with individual children in private lessons.

One of the group games, Hip Hop Freeze, helps students recognize different notes and learn to count. Another game teaches note identification as the children listen to simple melodies and then write them down on a staff.

Tempel, a music and religious studies senior at Macalester College who started working with Hill during the summer, said teaching the kids is rewarding.

“It’s exciting to see kids getting excited and picking things up,” she said.

The instructors aren’t the only ones who seem to be enjoying themselves. Rondo staff are excited about the program, too.

“I’m hoping his program spins off,” said Maria De Leon, a Rondo coordinator. “I really enjoy his passion and commitment.”

 

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]