Please share your experience of any community outreach activities and also what kind of impact it has to your career as a musician.
My first experiences in community outreach began when I volunteered in three local hospitals in my hometown of Loma Linda, CA during high school. I would play violin for patients’ families in the lobby, and also in the hospital wards where permitted. Although it might feel like a lighter performance occasion now, at the time it felt like a weighty responsibility to collect sheet music or memorize new songs each week, and to confront my natural shyness and fear of the unknown in the performance environment. After several years, however, I was glad to have accomplished, and I was featured on local TV and newspapers for a performance at the local Veterans’ Hospital. I still perform concerts there regularly during holiday seasons with my family, who are avid string players and singers as well but not professional musicians.
During high school, I was also a founding member of a community outreach program near my hometown called Community Kids’ Connection - Music, or CKC-Music for short. This program, which I taught at from the very beginning and still volunteer in on holidays, pairs local children from low-income neighborhoods in gritty San Bernardino, CA with local university students and community members who also play string instruments or piano. Weekly attendance as of now regularly exceeds 40. Many students have passed through the program, but one I remember the most for having taught now plays violin in his father’s band, Mariachi Victoria, and enrolled in a criminal justice program at a local community college. Teaching in the program requires a great deal of resourcefulness to reach some students, as well as effort in arranging music every week for their use. Many students, for example, need open-string parts to play along with the more advanced students so that they can perform together as an ensemble. Attention must be given to finding and arranging short familiar songs, normally popular or Christian. Many students also ask for songs to be arranged just for them, which I sometimes do if time permits. Although it is unlikely any will become full-time professional musicians, it’s been a pleasure in the long term to see their progress, and to be able to participate in mentoring. Studies have shown that music education contributes greatly to academic success, and I’ve seen first-hand evidence of new direction and upward mobility in their lives as students look up to and learn from their college-educated mentors. The program has also led me to an appreciation of the universality of the arts from a cultural point of view. From my family background, I come from Chinese and Korean roots on my mother’s side, and Caucasian blood from my father’s, and almost all of the children in the program have been from Latino families, most of whom speak Spanish at home. I’ve regularly had to use my high school Spanish to translate for parents. I’ve never felt any less effective communicating the skills and values of our program as a teacher due to the cultural difference, however, and this has been consistently the case whether or not I teach Mariachi tunes, music from the European classical tradition, American praise songs from the domain of Contemporary Christian Music, popular music that most of the children know better than I do, or hymns that my students and I both grew up singing in different languages.
More recently, my participation in local community outreach efforts in LA has reshaped the way I view the professional world and given me a new sense of optimism. Although there is always a sense of crisis in the conservatory world over the scarcity of traditional orchestra and teaching jobs, the other side of the situation from the teachers’ point of view paints a picture of a very different reality, as frequently paid outlets for arts outreach cannot find enough qualified volunteers who are willing to work under realistic conditions. I now spend my weekends teaching grant-funded group classes in two local churches, in addition to substitute teaching at local private music schools and my own private teaching. It’s understandable that many conservatory-educated musicians have limited time for teaching at this level and wages, and may lack the time to find or arrange music appropriate to each student as an individual, but I’ve found it liberating to embrace the challenge and responsibility. I haven’t encountered any shortage of work opportunities in the teaching area, especially now that I am approved to work as a substitute teacher in the LA Unified School District. I don’t know if I’ll be teaching in the same outlets for the rest of my life, but the income has freed me to pursue my dreams of entering competitions, furthering my academic research in my doctoral program, and arranging music for my own use and for advanced students, rather than worrying about which orchestras are hiring and whether or not I will have to move away from my base in LA. The only constant is that I always look for new opportunities to built existing organizations higher and to reach out in new avenues as appropriate. Ultimately I would like to work as a professor in an institution of higher education, and knowing the importance of community outreach today, I am hopeful that my experiences and skill set by then will enable me to make a greater positive change. I see community outreach as essential to the basic survival of the arts, as institutions can only ensure the existence of interested students who might enroll and a market for their own art by continually reaching out to new members of the community.