Free Music, Free Minds: UChicago, Student Led Music Program Teaches South Side Kids the Power of Music

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(photo by: worradmu)

"Music can change the world because it can change people." This is just one of the many reasons why the arts are an important part of the human experience and U2 front man, Bono, couldn't have said it any better. Music allows you to feel emotion, express oneself and think creatively. With music as an already proven constructive asset, the arts should naturally be an integral part of a person's development; and where better to start than with our children? 


Unfortunately, music and other art forms have fallen by the wayside in many schools in the United States. Arts education programs across the nation are being cut from schools because of lack of funding and government support, though evidence that the arts are important to a child's educational growth has been brought to the table. For example, university studies show that "middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music performances scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests". Results like these have yet to be translated into concrete programs where kids can learn the art form in some communities.


Chicago is unfortunately not an exception to the trend. Many of the city's public schools have programs that are of poor quality or practically nonexistent. Kids have very few ways of expressing themselves, let alone discovering their talents. Some groups on the South Side, however, are hoping to make a difference by helping students find the music within.
"In my life, music has been a source of strength and comfort, and the opportunities exist on a logistical level in our program to invite people to participate in that, who might not otherwise have been able to" said Noah Moskowitz, a 4th year student at UChicago.

Noah is referring to a program called South Side Free Music Program (SSFMP). In the program, students from the University of Chicago go to after-school programs at community centers and schools on the South Side to teach kids how to play music and instruments. After only a year and a half, SSFMP already has 32 UChicago students working with over 60 kids from the surrounding neighborhoods, teaching anything from the cello to the flute to the drums. Currently, the program is held at three locations: K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center near Washington Park, Sexton Elementary School in Woodlawn, and Goodspeed Hall on UChicago's campus. It's a very impressive feat for such a young program.

Moskowitz, who is the founder and president of SSMP, has been playing music since he can remember, and giving kids in the surrounding neighborhood the opportunity to have that experience is very important to him. For him, what started as a simple desire to "jam" with these kids has turned into a call to the campus community, to help open opportunities for artistic expression that weren't available to the children before.

"The areas adjacent to the University are well known for being some of the poorest in Chicago and marked by lack of access to good education, healthcare, employment, etc." he explains. "I feel disgusted and stressed by this state of affairs, and indifference has not been an effective way for me to address that feeling." The University has one of the best music programs in the country and with that, SSFMP students are using their access and education to give kids a similar opportunity.

Audio production is Noah's focus this year as a teacher, which has been a very exciting class for many of his students. Though the program works with kids as young as four, he is working with high schoolers who are entranced by the work they do in his class. With that skill, we might see the tons of young Kanye's coming out of South Side as claimed by some of Noah colleagues. That excitement from community partners, as well as the kids, is a great motivator for the progression of arts in education and evidence of its effectiveness.

South Side Free Music Program doesn't just benefit the kids however--the UChicago student teachers get something out of it too. Noah explained that "the program causes its student teachers to make contact with a population and community they might otherwise not have." The interactions that UChicago students have with their surrounding community help the challenge stereotypes that they are privy to at the University as well increasing their awareness to the present disparities in the area.

With all its success thus far, there isn't much that Moskwowitz hopes for the program in the near future. Of course, he'd like growth in terms of participants, as well as to see more spaces for social engagements and performances. But as a graduating senior, he also will be passing the baton on to his fellow peers with the simple hope that it continues to live on.

"This program gives me the opportunity to deal productively with the disgust and stress our social environment gives me, and to lessen it to whatever extent the program is effective. This disgust and stress will not dissipate until the South Side looks very different, [so] I am driven to keep it running", exclaimed Noah.

Noah's passion for music shows how powerful it can be. It is one of the most creative forms of expression and conjures up so many different emotions: sadness, happiness, anger--it's give you a sense of liberation. The kids on the South Side need a medium like music to express themselves, especially when they live in an environment that has caused them to struggle intellectually and emotionally. South Side Free Music Program has become that refuge to escape and be constructive about how they feel. Whether a four year is picking up a saxophone as big as he is, or a high school student makes the next beat of the year, Noah Moskowitz and the program's other teachers are excited that their passions are becoming someone else passions too--someone who might not have even known it was option to explore.

"There's a sense that I shouldn't be doing this. If there were any justice, I wouldn't have to" said Moskowitz. "[But] I'm acutely aware of the power of music and it's something I can give to them."

2 Comments

Jane said:

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iHeater said:

Wonderful attempt altogether and great discussion, as I am new to this so do not know much about it. But soon will learn and add value to this. Thanks for sharing it.

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