Many local Chicago Public Schools (CPS) do not have the funding to provide their students with instrumental music education. One City, a program hosted by the VanderCook College of Music, aims to fill in those gaps. The program was started by VanderCook’s former band director Brian Logan in the fall of 2017, aimed to provide jazz instruments and education to children from Bronzeville and the surrounding neighborhoods. When Logan needed to leave VanderCook abruptly during the summer of 2018, One City Executive Director and VanderCook Professor of Applied Trumpet Dr. Schuman was left with a conundrum. “Whatever we do,” she recalled herself thinking, “we can’t leave these kids hanging.” She described how the program had ignited passion in each of them and started them on the routine of regularly practicing. She didn’t want that fire to die.
Completely free of charge for local families, children who participate in One City study with VanderCook undergraduate and master’s students in small groups on their specific instrument, and they also play in a large jazz ensemble directed by One City Artistic Director and VanderCook Director of Jazz Studies Anthony Kidonakis. While the program does not continue over the summer, free private lessons with VanderCook students do continue: a good teaching experience for VanderCook students as well as the students they teach.
The program receives an enormous amount of support from the parents of the children in this program, who have gone to lengths such as planning a large popcorn fundraiser that raised $2000 for the group. In addition, Eastman music company donates many of these instruments, and the instruments they don’t receive as donations they receive at reduced prices, said Dr. Schuman. When a child graduates from One City at eighth grade, they are allowed to keep it.
The program hopes to recruit another 20 students after the semester ends, and judging by the waiting list that already exists, that shouldn’t be a problem. The group also recently joined the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative in order to partner with other local music programs. Since One City only caters to students in fifth to eighth grade, Dr. Schuman hopes that partnering with this group will help kids find other programs to continue their music studies.
Ashley Barajas, an employee of One City and VanderCook student, said that the program means a lot to her because it’s exactly what she’d like to do when she’s older. Barajas explained that she came from a low-income family, and she knows from personal experience that music was what kept kids focused on the good things. In addition, she explained, many school music programs are focused only on “normal” classical or marching music. One City focuses on jazz, providing something unique.
Maurice Williams, also a VanderCook student and One City employee, likes the program specifically because it exposes the kids to different instruments, different performance opportunities, and also to the neighborhood’s deep jazz roots. As a nod to this, the program’s two ensembles are named after two well-known Bronzeville jazz musicians, Earl Hines and Dorothy Donegan.
The group’s next concert will occur on May 11, 2019 at 11 a.m. at VanderCook, and Dr. Schuman invites all who are interested to attend. If any Illinois Tech students or faculty are interested in volunteering and getting involved, they are more than welcome, musically trained or not. There’s a place for everyone, Dr. Schuman explained, especially as their June fundraiser draws nearer. She remarked that she hopes this can be an opportunity to connect the two colleges, and a way for Illinois Tech students who have a passion for music to continue it. Any questions can be directed to her at [email protected]