240 Strings is a music education nonprofit providing Portland’s low-income youth an opportunity to change their lives through music, free of charge. We teach, mentor and support students from elementary school through high school, offering “music intervention” to help them succeed in school and in future careers.
As music instructors we sometimes have the chance to sneak in a life lesson. Very often it begins with the student …
Thalia Bikamba: “Learning a new song gets easier every time!”
Which made me smile. Then, she said, “I always want to play everything perfectly.” So we talked about how there’s really no such thing as “perfect,” and it’s more about growing your brain and problem-solving, and she kind of gets it. She asked what if she keeps making the same mistakes, and I said she’s learning the skills to fix them, to practice them until she gets them right. She said, “It’s not just in music,” which blew my mind, and so I said that I bet solving musical problems has taught her that working hard, trying different solutions and going over it until she gets it will solve problems in other subjects as well (and lead to not making the same mistake over and over). Which I think kind of blew HER mind.
—Tracey Jasas-Hardel, Resident violinist and director of community outreach
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Delphia Watchiba: “Ever since I started playing the piano, I have something to share.”
Wow! I thought to myself. I told her that playing piano is something she can have to share forever. I asked her how people react when she plays for them. She said, “It gives people a reason to listen to me.” So I asked how that makes her feel, and she said great. I told her that’s how her own hard work and practice are helping her to become more confident, and that this sense of accomplishment and connection are some of the best parts of studying music. We can use music to bring us together.
Delphia: “I noticed that the wind sounds higher and softer in the summer, and lower and sadder in the winter.”
I said music is a lot like language, except it’s about emotions instead of words and ideas. You can communicate feelings when you play, and people will “hear” certain emotions, just like the wind does for you. “Oh, I want to be able to do that!” she said, her face lighting up. I told her she already does, and to think about that at our concert in May. She said she’ll be nervous, and I told her that’s OK, and that she’s been working hard and has learned so much. And that I’ll be there with her, and I know she’ll be wonderful.
—Annie Antonaco, Resident pianist and director of programming