Teen Has What it Takes… and Pays it Forward

Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki

What do you get when you combine a passion for volunteering, musical talent, good character, hard work and professionalism? You get a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music!

High school senior and Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston member Diamonte (Monte), was thrilled to find out recently that he earned his spot at Berklee— full tuition paid for. It was exciting news (albeit not surprising news) to everyone who knows him. From the moment that Monte first entered the Music Clubhouse at the Boys and Girls Club in 2014, he was on the path to success.

Music Director Daniel “DP” Pattianakota remembers Monte showing up that first summer with his trombone in hand. DP recommended that Monte try out the bass guitar, since it shares the bass clef with the trombone, and Monte took to it immediately. His first performance on bass was shortly thereafter at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston Music Awards. Monte has subsequently performed on bass at his successful auditions for the Boston Arts Academy, the Berklee City Music program, and Berklee College of Music. Last year, Monte and his band won a music competition and were invited to Dallas to perform at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Conference.

Still, it was more than just his musical expertise that got Monte that full scholarship to Berklee.

“Monte has excellent character,” explains DP, “He has a good heart and always shows so much professionalism at the Clubhouse.” His strength of character led to his being hired as a Youth Leader for the Yawkey Club. Through this unique part-time job, Monte taught and mentored younger teens. He represented the Music Clubhouse well, always willing to introduce himself to visitors. He helped with everything ranging from setting up performances to various administrative duties. He also had the distinct responsibility of organizing the musical performances for the grand openings of two new branches of Bank of America.

DP says that these experiences have prepared Monte really well for Berklee and beyond. What they offer in the Music Clubhouse is a lot of collaborative and ensemble work, requiring youth to learn how to play together and to listen to each other, both musically and in their social interactions. They also focus on understanding the basics of musicianship and the necessity of preparation for performances. Furthermore, they instill in their youth the importance of representing themselves well, whether they’re hanging around with their peers, at an audition, or performing on stage. Not only do these principles align well with the music education and environment at Berklee, but they also prepare the teens for their future roles in life.

As for Monte, he’s already looking to his future. In addition to attending Berklee this Fall, Monte is planning to do a work-study at the Music Clubhouse, where he can continue the valuable work he has done there already and give back to the community that supported him along his path to success.

Music+Dedication=Results

Teen participants, Jason and Trey, attend different Music Clubhouses. But they have a lot in common.

Both are talented musicians. Both attend their Clubhouses consistently every day and with great enthusiasm. And both are seeing the payoff to their commitment and hard work.

In addition to their musical accomplishments— such as Jason playing in an elite band, and Trey learning how to write and record his original songs— the teens have grown and matured personally.

Trey made such progress that he won a Junior Youth of the Year award at his Club. And he proudly shares that “My grades and writing have gotten better.”

Similarly, Jason’s Music Director says, “He has shown a huge improvement academically. After struggling last year, he just showed me a report card with excellent grades and nearly perfect attendance.”

This progress helped Jason look to the future. “The music program has given me the greatest insight on what I want to do in the future. Without the music program I would still be looking for what to do after high school. I plan to pursue a career in the music industry where I can support myself through music.”

 

Finding Common Ground

This is the story of eight youth, boys and girls ages 12-13, who came together to do a studio project.

When they first entered the studio, none of them really seemed interested in the project. The boys were searching YouTube for the latest rap songs. The girls were trying to distance themselves from the boys. Even after a pep-talk from their Music Director, they didn’t seem any more motivated.

Then, one of the boys made a casual comment about his cousin and the family’s difficulty coming to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic this past summer. It was a conversation starter— a conversation that all eight participants related to in some way. They all understood the struggle of coming to the U.S. to start a new life— a better life— with nothing but the clothes on your back.

Almost immediately, the boys started writing rap lyrics, half in English and half in Spanish. The girls took the initiative and started coming up with a hook. One student worked with staff to come up with the instrumental track. In just over an hour the song was recorded.

“It was a flurry of creative activity that culminated in something that they were all proud of,” shares their Music Director. “Their completed song will be featured on an upcoming compilation album.”

This group of youth learned how shared experiences can bring people together. And how music comes from a deeply personal space.

Access and Opportunity for Two Brothers

Brothers Zach and Ivan have always had incredible musical potential. But what they didn’t have was access and opportunity.

There were many life circumstances that made opportunities difficult. English is their second language. Their mom works long hours, yet still struggles to make ends meet. And they have an older sister with special needs who requires extra care. Extracurricular activities seemed simply inaccessible to them— until they discovered the Music Clubhouse through the Boys & Girls Club’s Licensed After School Program.

There, Zach and Ivan found a deep love of music and have become dedicated and talented instrumentalists. The older brother, Zach, picked up the guitar and quickly became a top participant at the club. The younger brother, Ivan, is a multi-talented musician who has become proficient in every other instrument within a year. When they come to the club, every minute is spent in the studio practicing.

Getting involved with the Music Clubhouse has been a true game changer for these two,” says their Music Director. “The economic circumstances at home make opportunity hard to come by at times, but these brothers have benefited more from this program in a year than most youth do in three, and that goes beyond just music. The clubhouse staff are greeted every time they come in by a giant smile, infectious enthusiasm, and a love of music that reminds us of why we’re in this line of work.”

A highlight of Zach and Ivan’s musical accomplishments was when they were featured performers at a recent community-wide event. This was the first performance that their mom was able to attend, and she was able to see their happiness shine through and their self-confidence soar.

Have you heard about Eche?

If you haven’t heard about Eche yet, you will.

It all started several years ago, when Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith did a clinic for over 100 youth from several Music Clubhouses. When Tom asked if there were any questions, a brave little 10-year-old boy named Eche asked if he could come up on stage and rap. He rapped in front of that entire audience- it was amazing!

Eche continued coming to the Music Clubhouse and honed his rapping skills all along the way. He’s now all grown up, and he recently won a Boys & Girls Club National Competition called Lyricism 101, with his insightful original piece about identity:

As the winner, Eche was flown down to Atlanta, where he recorded at TreeSound Studios, and received $5,000 in scholarship money towards college. In addition, he was asked to perform at the BGCA National Conference

Caption: L. to R: Jim Clark, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Eche, winner of the first Lyricism 101 national competition; Rick Aggeler, Director of Operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston Blue Hill Club

Rick Aggeler, Director of Operations at the Blue Hill Clubhouse, shares his pride in this moment. “To Eche, it was validation that working hard at his passion can truly pay off. Both from receiving money towards college, and traveling to different cities in the US. For so many people to rally and give him votes really shows the power of staying dedicated to your craft, staying humble, and writing the best music he possibly can.”

Determination- and a Piano- Help Teen Cross Cultural Boundaries

“I have learned so much that I can apply to both my music life and my everyday life.”

In many ways, Jonah was an outsider when he arrived at the Music Clubhouse. As a Nigerian immigrant, he was unfamiliar with the Latinx culture and Afro-Latin music that were predominant in the Club. Still, Jonah was a musician, a self-taught pianist who played every weekend at church. And through music and his own determination and ambition, Jonah became very much an insider!

As rehearsals for a huge, Club-wide musical began, Jonah asked to be the lead pianist. He invested himself fully in the work. He memorized all the songs. He studied the style of salsa music in order to capture the vibrant Afro-Latin beats that the youth-composed music contained.

Although he did not share the culture which inspired the musical, he learned how to embrace it- and in doing so, he has become a master Afro-Latin musician. His Music Clubhouse Director is proud: “Jonah has shown so much growth, learning how to play piano and being a leader on his team. The other youth look up to him.”

Jonah adds, “My experience at the Music Clubhouse has been amazing. I have learned so much that I can apply to both my music life and my everyday life.”

 

Role Models and Report Cards: A Connection

Can a single report card symbolize something really meaningful? In Sonya’s case, the answer is yes.

When she was 13 years old, Sonya came to the Music Clubhouse with no music experience and a lot of personal baggage. She was struggling with a difficult family life at home and her own anger issues. And as a result, her grades were suffering.

The mentorship she received at the Music Clubhouse, from both the staff and peer leaders, was unlike any support-system she had experienced before. “I started hanging out in the Music Clubhouse and things got better,” says Sonya. “I learned to control my anger. I started learning drums from the Youth Leader- I really look up to him.”

Things continued to improve. The junior band did not have a drummer at that time, so Sonya was asked to sit in. She was shy but quickly became a regular member of the group. “I don’t really like performing in front of other people, but I did for the first time!” says Sonya proudly. It was in front of a crowd at the Club’s end-of-the-year celebration. At that event, Sonya also won the “Transformation” award for the progress she had made.

Throughout this period of time, Sonya’s Music Clubhouse Director had been in touch with her school. “I was able to become connected to her school counselor in order for us to share our experience with Sonya and best support her success,” he said. This type of mentorship approach, in which the Music Clubhouse staff focus on youth development through music, is the key to the mission of the Music Clubhouse.

Which brings us back to that report card. Inspired by the peer leaders who brought in their report cards, Sonya was proud to bring hers in and share it, too. To everyone’s delight, Sonya’s grades had improved significantly. This report card, for Sonya, was a symbol of the hard work she had put in to improving her life and a testament to the dedication of her mentors, both staff and peers.

With good grades in hand, Sonya is now poised to give back, says her Music Clubhouse Director. “She enrolled in our summer Youth Leadership program and begins the process that will eventually lead her to employment in the Music Clubhouse.”

Music Clubhouse: A Safe Space for Transgender Teen

“The me that had existed when I first started would never be able to even get on the stage.”

When Emmett first came to the Music Clubhouse, he was Elizabeth. Having faced a lot of bullying in school and elsewhere, Elizabeth was feeling defeated and isolated. At the very beginning, being at the Music Clubhouse didn’t feel any different.

But then, Elizabeth’s mentor and Music Director used music to connect with her. A shared love of rock music (even amidst mostly hip-hop at the Club) helped Elizabeth feel like she belonged. The Music Director encouraged Elizabeth to do a karaoke cover of her favorite band, “Panic! at the Disco.” Elizabeth’s peers loved it! After that, the other teens frequently requested that she perform karaoke songs because of her vocal talent.

Elizabeth’s confidence soared. She finally felt like she was being treated as an equal, a peer. It was then that she courageously came out as transgender. Almost immediately, Elizabeth adopted the name Emmett. Emmett confidently changed his image and the way he carried himself. Emmett was finally the person he had always wanted to be.

“Bonding musically with other participants provided Emmett a place in which he was accepted as Emmett, rather than being belittled and rejected,” says his Music Director.

Emmett’s musical and personal journey still had its rough patches. When he decided to to perform at the Club’s annual fashion show, he heard himself on a practice recording and was so overwhelmed that he almost quit.

But after picking a new song and rehearsing for many hours, Emmett was not only excited for the Fashion Show, but he even enjoyed hearing himself sing. Emmett was ready to perform on stage. The performance was a huge success, and Emmett actually went as far as asking the crowd to sing along responsively. “That is a huge risk to take as a performer, with a chance that the crowd is unresponsive,” says his Music Director.

The risk was worth taking. The crowd was extremely supportive and sang along. Emmett’s family members, who were in the audience, were ecstatic and proud. And Emmett was awarded one of the leadership achievement awards for being the “Teen Breakout Star” of the year.

Most importantly, Emmett was proud of himself.

“At the fashion show that the Club held, I asked to audience to sing back during my performance and they actually did!” says Emmett. “The me that had existed when I first started would never be able to even get on the stage. But now, I’ve become more confident. So, I guess what I’m saying is that you should always be yourself and try your hardest to forget your worries. Just never give up. Okay?”

Just Do It!

“What captured my interest wasn’t the music. It was the energy of the people playing the music, which is why I enjoy what I do.”

It’s never too late to start. That’s the lesson that Nessa learned over the past two years in the Music Clubhouse.

When she first showed up in the Clubhouse it was just to hang out in a cool place. Although she loved music, the teen had never played an instrument and figured that she missed the opportunity to start when she was younger. But that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

“What captured my interest wasn’t the music,” says Nessa. “It was the energy of the people playing the music, which is why I enjoy what I do.”

Nessa spent every weekday in the Music Clubhouse practicing drums and making tracks in the studio. Fast forward to today, and you’ll see a group of young drummers sitting patiently in the drum room facing the white-board, while Nessa explains how to incorporate ghost notes and accents into their rudiment playing.

She’s now a Youth Leader and is “an essential part of the fabric of the Music Clubhouse,” says her Music Director.

In her job as Youth Leader, Nessa assists in day-to-day studio operations, plans weekly activities and events for members, and acts as a drum mentor to beginner students.

Her Music Director couldn’t be prouder. “Members like Nessa are the reason we have Music Clubhouses,” he says. “To give youth a place to grow, and a path toward self-actualization, and success through music,”

Success is already upon her. Thanks to her job as a Youth Leader, Nessa was able to save up money for her first laptop, which she uses to produce music when she’s away from the club. This is her first step in preparation for a career in music. Next, she hopes to attend a prestigious Music College, where she would like to study Music Production and Engineering.

For now, Nessa can be found in the drum room practicing her doubles, or with headphones on, lost in her latest track. She’s proving to herself daily that there’s no time limit to pursuing your passion.

Going the Extra Distance for Music

“He has proven himself to be a young man of great character.”

Thomas has a Boys & Girls Club across the street from the Housing Projects where he lives. He used to walk there all the time. But this club doesn’t offer extracurricular music programming– nor does his small, underserved high school. And Thomas loves music, especially drums. So, every day he rides the bus or gets rides from friends in order to attend the Music Clubhouse in another neighborhood.

“I love the Music Clubhouse. It’s the only reason I come to the Club. I don’t know where I would be without it. I have learned the drums, piano, beat making and now I am learning how to play the guitar.”

He shows up against all odds, and once he’s there, he’s no slacker. Thomas is always positive and strives to be active in the Clubhouse. He recently became the Assistant to the Music Clubhouse Director. His job duties include helping maintain the culture of the music room, keeping projects flowing steady, and assisting in clean up.

“Thomas is a leader at the Music Clubhouse and has proven himself to be a young man of great character,” says his Music Clubhouse Director. “He asks how he can help, he instructs younger Clubhouse members on how to play instruments, and he does so with a smile on his face. He is drummer and a musician. I am very proud of him and want to acknowledge his accomplishments. When I asked him what he wanted to do with his life, he said, ‘I want to be a musician.’ I feel confident that he will positively affect many people with his joyful attitude.”