Every Saturday, it’s a cacophony of sound: flutes, piano, saxophone — and you can’t miss the banging on the drums.
The players can all pretty much ignore each other because they have their own rooms to play in. Well, they ignore all but the drums. Those are pretty hard to miss.
This cavalcade of notes is courtesy of the Outreach Music Academy. It’s a program offered by Second Baptist Church, 919 6th Ave., Rock Island, although it’s all about the music, not religion.
“We do it to not only teach kids music,” Jerry Wilkerson explains, “but to teach them commitment, to improve their attention span so they’ll do better in school and, later, become good citizens.”
He says that success is measured by the number of students who return and stay with it.
The program has been around for 12 years and Wilkerson has led it the past four. While he’s the department chairman and an instructor in information technology at Scott Community College, he’s been playing a variety of instruments since he was 10.
“I paid my way through college playing in a band,” he says with a smile.
The program partners with YouthHope, a Christian Friendliness ministry. A van picks up several children, primarily those who attend Glenview Middle School in East Moline, and gets them to the church on the west side of Rock Island by 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Some 30 students attend every weekend. Another 30 come after school, 3:30-7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. The lessons run for 30 minutes a week from September through May.
‘Always looking for donations’
The measured notes of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” can be heard through the wall.
“How this works is there is a whole note divided into two,” Torey Baxa explains.
Baxa is an Augustana College sophomore who plays three instruments but is majoring in anthropology to prepare for a career in a museum.
“I like it,” she says, referring to the teaching. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Her students for the day are Heaven Wheeler, 12, and Melina Nickerson, 11. As the two Glenview students eye the sheet music, Melina says, “My mom used to play the flute and I wanted to try it.”
“I never played before,” Heaven explains. “I wanted to try.”
Students can try for $7.50 a lesson, less than the regular price of a movie ticket. That $7.50 covers the instructor, the instrument and its maintenance, the operation of the academy — in which volunteers play a vital role — and any extracurricular activities.
“We have parents meeting right now to come up with fundraising ideas,” Wilkerson says. “The Augie students and faculty help raise money, the church gives us some and we apply for grants.”
The group also partners with Foster Music on the instruments, “but we’re always looking for donations,” he adds.
The majority of the instructors are music students from Augustana as well as from Black Hawk College to a lesser extent. Wilkerson, though, always has to play the Pied Piper role, looking for extra instructors, because someone is always absent.
“Right now I really need piano teachers,” he adds.
Not just for kids
The drum room may be the loudest one can imagine. Three boys, ages 9-11, are banging away so loudly that you can’t be heard even while shouting in someone’s ear.
Tyson Cook of Davenport admits that his family is always asking him to quit what sounds like noise to them, “but I tell them it’s my job to practice.”
A.J. Johnson, 11, of Bettendorf, doesn’t have drums at home but he uses a practice pad. Desmond Williams, 9, of Silvis, “practices on a pillow.”
The program isn’t just for kids. Adults can come to learn, too.
“The B is the lowest note and you’re leaving out the D — it’s the right hand here,” Augustana student Will Carr instructs one of the youngsters.
He is primarily a cello player and majoring in music performance, but he also knows the piano.
“They definitely seem eager to learn,” he marvels.
Ron Casillas of Rock Island is picking away at his piano notes, peering intently at the sheet music, fingers appropriately curved. Carr’s eyes flit between Ron’s hands and the sheet music.
Casillas is retired. He plays the bass guitar with a group of volunteers who perform for area nursing home residents.
“I thought I ought to learn the keyboard to change up our music,” he says.
Curtis Foster, 58, waits patiently for his guitar teacher. Foster says he joined last year because it’s something he can do together with his 17-year-old autistic son Jonathan.
“He is great with his hands and he’d stay on the computer all day if we let him,” Foster says. “He mimics the instructor really well on the piano.”
As for his own musical ability, he laughs.
“I’m struggling, but I enjoy it. It’s therapeutic and, after awhile, I have a sense of accomplishment.”
Instructor Jill King of Moline believes that once someone learns how to play an instrument, “it can take them anywhere in the world.”
King says she remains motivated to teach after all these years because of the way “their eyes light up when they make that first sound.”