The Issue: Lack of Arts Education in Public Schools
Arts education helps students gain the creative and critical-thinking skills that are necessary for success in school and their future careers, according to a report from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Access to the arts, however, is disproportionately absent in schools located in lower-income neighborhoods, preventing those students from receiving the benefits of art, music, and dance.
The Oakland Youth Chorus reports that, outside of the chorus, none of the Oakland schools have after-school vocal programming, and many do not have any other music-education offerings open to the entire student body. Because of this, the OYC targets youth from under-resourced neighborhoods—including East Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, and San Antonio—who would not otherwise have access to music education or other after-school activities.
The Campaign: Sponsoring Low-Income Students in a Youth Chorus
All donations to this Grassroots campaign will be used by Oakland Youth Chorus to bring students together in song through its school and community choruses. For every $600 raised, Oakland Youth Chorus can sponsor one student from a low-income background in the choir program for one year.
Students start out by auditioning with school and community choirs in their neighborhoods, and every student who auditions gets a role in the choir regardless of musical skill level. While with the choir, they learn musical-theory techniques, ranging from identifying patterns in rhythm to singing in foreign languages and discovering new cultures through an international repertoire. They then showcase these skills in performances for their friends, family, and peers at school recitals and community events.
Oakland Youth Chorus
When the voices of a choir come together, they produce a warmth and a power greater than the sum of their parts. "There is something special that happens when you bring people together in music in general—something about the power of the human voice," explains Oakland Youth Chorus Executive Director Keri Butkevich.
The Oakland Youth Chorus (OYC) helps children find that power. The chorus started in 1974 as an effort to unite youth from different neighborhoods of Oakland. It reached across racial, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers to teach musical-performance skills and foster friendships that might not otherwise occur. Today, it serves more than 600 students in 18 school and community sites. In addition to eight K–5 choruses, OYC directs a city-wide Concert Chorus for middle- and high-school students that has won several national awards at Heritage Festivals and sung at the White House.
The school and community choirs are open to anyone who wants to join. Choir directors assess students' current skills and help them grow from there. The students then showcase these skills in performances ranging from city-wide parades to local school recitals. These concerts present a repertoire that includes everything from the Beatles to Panamanian work songs. In addition to reflecting the community of Oakland, these diverse performances help to "extend people's knowledge of music of the world" by incorporating melodies from Russia and Bulgaria, says Keri.
The K–5 choruses, known as Miracle Choruses, frequently use their voices for good, performing at American Cancer Society events or promoting AIDS awareness and urban-farming initiatives. These performances in particular show what choral music can do. Not only can it transform shy children into musicians—it has the "power of bringing people together." And by using their voices for community service, Keri explains, the singers develop "an awareness and appreciation for being part of a movement for positive change."