Student club receives $10,000 to fund music education for underprivileged kids

After obtaining her ARCT diploma in piano -- the highest academic credential awarded by The Royal Conservatory -- Jessie Wang wondered: “where do I go from here?” Now, Wang -- who was herself a beneficiary of volunteer piano lessons (though not from a formal organization) -- is the co-director of the Heart of the City Piano Program (HCPP) Vancouver chapter, an AMS club that provides piano and guitar lessons to underprivileged schoolchildren in East Vancouver.

Recently, the club obtained a Musicounts TD Community Grant worth $10,000, which will go to purchasing keyboards and guitars for students in the program to practice with at home -- all under a new “loan-for-practice” initiative.

As a predominantly volunteer-driven organization, the HCPP recruits musicians to teach basic music skills to those who might otherwise not have access to such opportunities. With a varying number of volunteers (which last term numbered to just under 30), the program has partnerships with nine different underprivileged elementary schools, and sets up weekly lessons (of about 20 minutes per student) for those interested -- a number limited mostly by the lack of available instruments.

The new “loan-for-practice” initiative, which Wang hopes will be implemented by the next school year, will hopefully change that.

“Because most of the students who take lessons with us are not able to afford an instrument at home … this is something that we think would greatly benefit [them],” said Wang, who noted that the added practice would give students a more realistic learning experience. “It will also help us expand the program to schools that currently don’t have any pianos or keyboards.”

Aside from the volunteer initiatives, program also has a Performance Troupe, a group of highly skilled musicians who volunteer not to teach, but to perform at various local venues and charity events in order to fundraise for the organization as a whole.

The majority of the funding goes towards the HCPP’s annual Year-End Recital, which gives students in the program a chance to perform on-stage at the Tom Lee Music Hall.

And while a few minutes a week may not seem like much at first, the program’s efficacy is more than just technical.

“Basically it might seem small that you’re teaching simple things to kids,” said Lydia Yeo, a volunteer teacher with the HCPP, “but it really makes a difference because at the year-end recital, even if the kid is playing something like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on the piano, their parents come up to us crying and are really happy that their children have the chance to learn even something as small as that.”

“It’s more about empowering the children than actually getting them to become professional pianists, because our volunteers also serve as role models for the students whose families might not be the best conditioned for them,” added Wang. “So it’s a matter of enhancing their social opportunities through access to music.”

It seems safe to say that, with each new student and volunteer, HCPP certainly lives up to its name of becoming the heart of the city.