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Pomona Senior's Music Mentoring Program Presents Children's Recital

Last spring, Gabriel Friedman ’12 was awarded $10,000 from the Daniel A. Strauss Public Service Foundation to create a music mentoring program. Since September approximately 45 school-age children have been receiving free weekly music lessons from students at the Claremont Colleges. Thirty of the children will give their first recital on Friday, April 13, at 7 p.m., in Pomona College’s Lyman Hall (Thatcher Music Building, 340 N. College Ave., Claremont).

The performers, who range in age from six to 15-years-old, had very limited access to musical instruments prior to the program. Now it’s a regular part of their lives.

Adrian, who is nine-years-old, is studying piano and gets to keep one of the program’s electronic keyboards at home for practice. He takes his lessons on a baby grand piano on Pomona’s campus. “It’s lots of fun to play piano,” says Adrian. “I like to play because it’s very peaceful, and my family likes to hear me play. I even passed the audition for the talent show at my school, and I’m so excited to play for my friends. They think it’s cool that I’m learning piano.”

Friedman, a neuroscience major was inspired to create the Music Mentoring Program of Pomona Valley when he learned that as few as 10 music lessons can produce measurable brain development in children. According to Friedman, “a lot of preliminary research in children has suggested a wide variety of transfer benefits from music learning including improvements in spatial, verbal and mathematical performance. It is even thought that the impact may be greater in lower income communities.”

Music Mentoring recruited children through the nonprofit Uncommon Good, where there was high demand, and interest was just as high with students at the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Scripps), with 40 showing up to the first meeting. The most difficult part, says Friedman, was finding the initial funding to purchase instruments, which are loaned to the children for the duration of the lessons.

At the musical instrument fair last September, the kids got to hear and try the instruments before listing their preferences. A few weeks later, all who attended the fair were matched with mentors and started their lessons.

Forty-six students are currently taking lessons through The Music Mentoring Program of Pomona Valley. Seventeen are learning piano. Six are studying violin; five, acoustic guitar; four, the drums; three, cello; and two each on the saxophone, trumpet, viola, electric guitar and flute. One is learning the ukulele. For most of the mentors, this is their first music teaching experience.

Friedman is Adrian’s piano teacher. “The best part about mentoring is seeing the improvement he makes each week and his ability to play at a much higher level than what one would expect from a beginner. Seeing his love for the piano is wonderful.”

Adrian isn’t the only new musician in the house. His older brother is taking electronic guitar through the program with a Pomona freshman.

Stella Deng ‘13 is teaching the saxophone to 11-year-old Yessica and will take over the program’s management next fall. “I had never taught music lessons before but once I heard about the program I was excited. Music is something I love so much, the idea of introducing it to someone else was so appealing…. It’s super exciting for me to watch how much [Yessica] has improved and to see how excited she is, especially preparing for the recital. I’ve been playing saxophone for 11 years, and during high school it was a big part of my life. I’m still taking lessons through school.”

Yessica is equally enthusiastic about the lessons and music. “Playing the saxophone is fun and interesting. I like it because it sounds different. It’s groovy, and music makes people happy.”

Rosa Arrendondo, who has two daughters, had long wanted to give them music lessons but the cost was prohibitive. Through Music Mentoring, her 11-year-old daughter, Michelle, is getting those piano lessons with Tori Holtestaul ’13.

“Now that we have Gabriel giving this opportunity to the community, it’s wonderful, “ says Arrendondo. “I can see lots of improvement in my daughter. She’s learning very quickly, and I feel happy. I never knew my daughter had this talent…. All my family, we feel very proud of my daughter because she’s playing piano….  The mentor that we have, Tori, is really sweet and patient. She wants to share the gift that she has, and we feel blessings. I am very happy that someone believed in Gabriel’s idea. I’m happy for the people supporting him. Because they believed in what he was thinking, they give this opportunity to a lot of families.”