Inspiring Young Musicians

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

These Wilmington organizations are shaping the future of the local music scene

 

There’s no doubt that Greater Wilmington encompasses a wealth of arts and cultural experiences. What’s equally impressive is the number of organizations that offer opportunities for young musicians to discover, hone and showcase their passions.  Here are a few who are bolstering the future of the music scene in our community:

Christina Cultural Arts Center
Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) is committed to providing artists of all ages access to weekly private and group music (and dance, visual arts, drama and more) instruction in the heart of the city.

For nearly 75 years, CCAC has served the city and diverse communities as a hub of artistic and cultural celebration. Christina Cultural Arts Center Inc. was founded in 1945 by the Women’s Club of Trinity Episcopal Church to provide activities for immigrant Polish and Swedish working-class families. In 1969, the mission was re-aligned to serve as a community-based arts center with an emphasis on preserving African-American heritage.

“Christina Cultural Arts Center is home to a long line of revered musicians emerging from African-American classical traditions, from spirituals to jazz, R&B, gospel, and hip-hop,” says Executive Director H. Raye Jones Avery. “Artists like Dennis Fortune, Gerald Chavis, Francee Boulware, Kevin Benjamin, Darnell Miller, Richard Raw, Dooder Mincey, Jill Broadway, Noelle Picara, Tierre Waters and other CCAC faculty are actively making their mark as composers, performers and recording artists on the local as well as U.S. music scene,” Avery says.

Avery also points to the Dennis Fortune Jazz Scholarship and early childhood music classes as well as partnership programs that are flourishing at CCAC. Students interested in connecting theory with performance can check out TheHildaMan Chorale; The Fast Lane, a new jazz collective directed by Gerald Chavis; or “Beyond Those Bars,” a hip-hop lyric-writing, beat-making and recording workshop in collaboration with Richard Raw and Culture Restoration Project, Inc.

Musician Richard Raw works with students during “Beyond Those Bars,” his hip-hop writing workshop at Christina Cultural Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Richard Raw

“Our program focuses on the three Cs—Confidence, Communication, and Character,” says Raw. “Many of our students think I’m teaching them. Little do they know, I’m learning a great deal through these interactions. It’s a reciprocal relationship with equal exchange.”

Darnell Miller has been part of the CCAC family for about 15 years. He teaches guitar, voice and early childhood music, and also teaches general music classes at sister organization Kuumba Academy Charter School. Miller is currently developing a songwriting intensive for CCAC youth and adults that he plans to launch this summer.

“The thing I love most about teaching is the comfort in knowing that what I’m doing is part of my purpose on Earth,” he says.

In addition to music, CCAC offers programs in dance, self-defense, drama and visual arts and also plays host to “Live @ Christina”—a series of intimate concerts, many of which feature nationally and internationally recognized jazz and R&B artists.

For more information, visit ccacde.org. To apply for the Dennis Fortune Jazz Scholarship, contact info@ccacde.org.

Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education
The Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education (DiAE) was founded in 1982 by Larry Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Delaware. Serving approximately 3,000 students each year, DiAE connects local and international artists in music, dance, theater and visual arts with public, private and charter schools for performances and workshops. The organization provides arts programming models for pre-k (the Delaware Wolf Trap program) and k-12 teaching artist residencies.

“We’ve been able to bring to schools local musicians like percussionist Jason Keller of J.K. Percussion, as well as world-renowned artists like Tony Vacca, Abdou Sarr and Massamba Diop—who was featured on the Academy Award-winning Black Panther soundtrack,” says Executive Director Nanci Hersh. She also notes that for many students, these partnerships are sometimes their first experience of an art form or professional performance by an outside organization.

Hersh says one of DiAE’s main goals is to expand its reach and brand recognition beyond the teachers and students they currently serve. “We’d like to grow our circles to include people from all sectors of the community—whether you have a child in school or not,” she says.

As part of that goal, on Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m., DiAE will present Spotlight, An Evening of the Arts at The Queen in Wilmington. The fundraising event shines a light on the work the organization does with Delaware schools and its strategic partners. The evening will feature a West African percussion and dance performance and honor Delaware’s Poets Laureate, The Twin Poets Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills.

“Spotlight is an event we’re really excited about,” Hersh says. “It epitomizes what we do, illustrating our partnerships with organizations like Light Up the Queen, Red Clay Consolidated School District, Warner-Shortlidge Arts Alliance, and Children and Families First.”

For more information, visit diae.org.

Imagination Players
This song-and-dance troupe with a community service focus was founded in 2007 by current Artistic Director Debbra (Deb) Johnson, Musical Director Betty Moudy and Choreographer Jessie Benner.

“I was doing shows with Delaware Children’s Theatre, and would see kids from different backgrounds come together to perform and develop friendships. Then the shows would end,” says Johnson. “I wondered what would happen if I created a place where kids could perform together year-round, while making a difference in their community.”

They began with 28 students, and the roster now averages about 85 kids annually, ranging in age from 7 to 18.

The group presents family concerts with positive messages. It has enjoyed collaborations with The Playhouse on Rodney Square and The Grand Opera House—starring as munchkins in the national tour of Wizard of Oz and singing in the national tour of Messiah Rocks—as well as participating in the Grand’s Summer Children’s Theatre and In The Spotlight competition.

On the community service front, Johnson notes that the organization has raised nearly $10,000 for childhood cancer research. Additionally, the group has developed a patriotic program for Veterans Day, raised money for two POW/MIA Chairs of Honor and produced collaborative projects with both VSA-Delaware and AbleArts. And since 2007, they’ve planned “Goodwill Tours,” where they spend the day visiting assisted living centers, daycares, schools and hospitals to sing and interact with people of all ages. “It’s one of our favorite activities,” says Johnson.

Johnson is both humbled and proud of the group’s growth over the past 12 years “Our group’s motto is ‘Imagine Harmony,’” she says. “But I can assure you, it’s not just about the music. It’s so much more.”

For more information, visit imaginationplayers.com.

The Music School of Delaware
Approaching a century of service to Wilmington and surrounding regions (its Centennial comes in 2025), The Music School of Delaware is the only statewide accredited community music school in the nation.

Students can choose from over 30 instruments taught by a faculty of almost 90 artists in 20 regional satellite and outreach sites. Throughout the year, the organization presents more than 120 public performances by students, faculty and guest artists.

“The emotional power of music is undeniable—it’s a phenomenal vehicle for young people to express themselves,” says Music School President and CEO Kate Ransom. “Studying an instrument is a pathway to ‘learn how to learn,’ and that translates to all other pursuits.”

Highlights of Music School youth programs include early childhood classes, its Suzuki Academy—with instruction in violin, viola, cello and piano—and the Delaware Youth Symphony Orchestra (DYSO).

“Music sparks joy for young children,” says Early Childhood Department Head Melinda Oriani.  “Fun activities, like in our Tots Rock or Discovering Music classes, tap into their natural curiosity, develop listening skills, and allow them to physically express music.”

The DYSO program attracts musicians up to age 18 from the tri-state area. The ensemble performs several times throughout the year; holds sectionals with faculty and guest coaches, and offers free conducting masterclasses, which give young artists the chance to conduct a real orchestra.

“Our repertoire travels from Shostakovich to Dvorak, Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninov, Brahms and other masterpieces,” says Music Director Simeone Tartaglione. “We have premiered pieces, performed symphonic pop repertoire, and played with soloists from orchestras and universities across the East Coast.”

“I love the energy of this orchestra,” says Maxine Chou, a member of the DYSO. “I’ve been in DYSO for a few years now, and it has taught me many things —leadership, self-discipline, and the importance of working together to achieve a goal.”

For more information, visit musicschoolofdelaware.org.

Reed’s Refuge Center
Located on Wilmington’s East Side, Reed’s Refuge Center (RRC), started in 2012 by Cora and Frederick Reed, provides invaluable creative experiences to children in Wilmington’s inner city, encouraging them to follow the organization’s motto and “seek refuge in the arts.” Since opening, the organization has reached more than 1,000 children, 80 percent of whom come from low- to moderate-income families. RRC gives them an outlet for expression and a safe haven from street violence. In 2017, the organization was honored with a Jefferson Award.

Executive Director Elisa A. McDonald says that when Reed was growing up in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood, music served as an escape for him. “And he wanted to do something to make a difference for other kids in this community,” McDonald says. “We enjoy exposing these kids to positive experiences and showing them the world is much bigger than just outside their doors.”

Before- and after-school and full-time summer programs serve youth from kindergarten through age 14. Classes not only include instruction in piano, drums, voice and media production, but also culinary arts (called “cooking without a stove”), dance, fashion design and tutoring in math, science and reading. RRC has recently partnered with Christiana Care to offer preventive dental care to kids as well.

We really see kids blossom here,” says McDonald. “When they come here, they feel valued and they feel like they are somebody.

For more information, visit reedsrefugecenter.org.

Artistic Director Kimberly Doucette leads members of the Wilmington Children’s Chorus’ Select Chorus ensemble in concert. Photo Bob Hanes

Wilmington Children’s Chorus
Since 2002, the CityFest-sponsored Wilmington Children’s Chorus (WCC) has provided music education for Wilmington-area youth—completely tuition free.  And that is no small feat. The organization’s five performing choirs serve 140 singers ages 8 to 18 who hail from more than 40 area schools. WCC has five performing ensembles—Youth Choir (younger singers to build musical and vocal skills); Select Choir (advanced treble singers); Young Men’s Ensemble (boys with changing/changed voices); Concert Choir (high school members); and Chamber Choir (highly advanced high school singers)—and hosts a summer choral camp for grades 2-8.

The Neighborhood Choir program, a collaborative outreach project with OperaDelaware, engages an additional 160 area elementary school students from underserved communities, providing them with free vocal music experiences via after-school programs.

The organization’s unique model has created a welcoming environment where youth of all backgrounds learn skills, create art, and build friendships across cultural and social boundaries.

“Our programs work to bring together diverse youth and, through music, help them connect with themselves, their community, and their world,” says Kimberly Doucette, WCC’s artistic director. “We’re thrilled to offer exceptional performance experiences for our youth and audiences, but the real work (and reward) happens in rehearsals and interactions, as our musicians develop their skills, talent, and self-confidence.”

WCC performs annual holiday and spring concerts, but this season also performed with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, OperaDelaware, a 302GunsDown rally for peace, and numerous appearances at community centers and a homeless shelter. All told this season, Doucette says, they will have performed more than 20 concerts and collaborative events.

This summer will mark the chorus’ third visit to Wilmington’s sister city of Fulda, Germany, where they will perform in a festival celebrating the 1275th anniversary of the city’s founding.  A special project with Sister Cities of Wilmington, this cultural exchange program has allowed the WCC to engage in musical collaborations and immersive cultural experiences with youth from Fulda biennially since 2011.

The chorus has also introduced a new initiative, “Better Together,” where the choristers use their voices to share a positive message of hope and harmony in and around their community.

For more information, visit wilmingtonchildrenschorus.org.

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