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BruNotes strikes chord with music lovers

New group promotes music education among Providence students, supplies free lessons

Before Tara Torabi ’15 could put in effect her plan to bring music education to low-income youth in Providence, she had to return to the piano keys. 

An avid piano player before college, Torabi couldn’t find time to practice once she arrived on College Hill. It was only after she started playing again this summer at Steinert Practice Center that she remembered her long-lost passion.

“I was very shy when I was growing up, and music gave me the ability to articulate my feelings when words couldn’t,” Torabi said, fondly remembering the weekly car rides with her father to the lessons, as well as the instruction itself. “I had the opportunity to receive music lessons, but what about kids who simply don’t have the opportunity because their parents can’t take them or can’t afford it?”

That’s where Torabi’s pilot program, BruNotes, steps in. Under the leadership of Torabi and Anne Gentry ’15, BruNotes will pair about 20 Brown undergraduates with K-12 students in Providence for free, individualized music lessons at local schools, churches and community centers. The lessons will include instruction in piano, voice, guitar, clarinet, violin, piccolo, flute, saxophone and trombone.

The program will also go beyond private music lessons. “We want to take them to piano concerts and have get-togethers where students can talk about music or play music together,” Torabi said.

BruNotes fills a niche in the campus music scene, Gentry said. Where many music programs at Brown revolve around technical growth and performance, BruNotes is “about loving music and passing it on to other people,” she said.

The founding of BruNotes comes at an especially crucial time in light of the national reductions of music education in public schools, said Nicole Denton, advocacy chair of the Rhode Island Music Educators Association, a nonprofit that promotes music education statewide.

When Denton worked as a music teacher in a Woonsocket middle school, she watched the student band drop from 300 to 22 members within a three-year span after music went from being part of the school day to an afterschool activity.

“They are taking music out of the school day because it’s not a tested subject,” Denton said. Rescheduling music education to this time puts it in competition with sports and other activities, she added, and it also prevents students with work and babysitting obligations from participating.

Torabi and Gentry face similar hardships in jump-starting their own music education group. Even if the group receives a grant from the Brown Venture Launch Fund, the money will only cover sheet music and books, Torabi said. To meet its goals, BruNotes is currently accepting instruments from students, professors and community members.

“It’s hard for me to put how I feel about music into words,” she said. “It’s a power we can’t see.”



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