“I am an artist.” These words resound in the viewing room at the Berklee Media Lab, as Jasmine, a shy student from Firgrove Public School in Toronto, finds the courage to admit to her musical prowess. On Wednesday October 12 at 6 p.m., the Berklee Media Lab and the Stan Getz Library presented “Listen to This,” a documentary detailing the progression of three underprivileged students, Jasmine, Donta, and Whitney, through a 16-week music camp. The students worked under the tutelage of pianist Thompson T. Egbo-Egbo—a student at the Berklee College of Music—and music producer Stokes.
The movie takes place in the Jane-Finch area in Toronto, where the students must face the very real difficulties of navigating through a neighborhood fraught with crime and outside distractions, which the students cannot always avert. Erica Charis, an outreach librarian for the Stan Getz library as well as the major organizer for the event, said, “I wanted people to see the film because it’s a well done film, but I also wanted to get a discussion going [about] issues of urban music education.” This theme of the importance of music education in an urban setting was highlighted throughout the night.
Following the documentary was a Q&A session that included Kathleen A. Camara, an associate professor for the Eliot-Pearson Department of Childhood Development at Tufts University, and Egbo-Egbo, who founded Thompson T. Egbo-Egbo Arts Foundation in 2006. Through this organization, he started the Evolving Through the Arts program. This program sets the background for the documentary. Its simple yet powerful goal is to allow children the opportunity to be introduced to music regardless of their socioeconomic background and challenges they may face.
“I’m not trying to create stellar musicians,” says Egbo-Egbo. “I was just trying to create a program that would be important—even if it wasn’t going to build them on the musical side—to their self esteem.” Egbo-Egbo, who was in a similar situation as a child in Toronto, understands the importance of such programs. He took piano classes for two dollars each as a part of the services provided by the Canadian government. Currently, Egbo-Egbo looks to graduate with a major in electrical production design with a minor in acoustics.
Much like Egbo-Egbo’s program, Berklee City Music strives to enrich others through music. A program of underserved youth, Berklee City Music offers music instruction for those in 4th to 12th grade. Although many come with strong musical influences from their respective churches and gospel choirs, the program provides them with a formal education focusing on both theory and performance that includes private lessons. The youth are then assigned to ensembles, where they further their education.
Camara has worked to improve music education through both this program and Youth Beat, which was founded in 2008. Youth Beat works on researching and evaluating the effects of City Music on development of the 128 children they are currently overseeing in all areas, such as music, academics, and youth leadership.
Reiterating Egbo-Egbo’s sentiment, Camara says, “If you can find a passion that you have and you want to share it with young people and it happens to be a passion they have and something they love to do, I think it makes all the difference in the world in terms of creating a sense of future and identity for these children and youth.”
It is this sense of identity that is seen in the final concert in the documentary. Introverted Jasmine belts out her self-written song and vivacious Whitney sways as she sings one of her own tunes. “If you don’t stand up, when you grow up you’re never going to stand up for yourself,” says Whitney. in the documentary as she talks about her singing. While music may be the basis of these programs, it is the students’ strength and personal growth that ultimately stand out.