‘Something magical that draws you in’

Wyclef Jean’s musical praise hits high note for Lowell High School junior

By RICK SOBEYrsobey@lowellsun.com, MARCH 8, 2018

Lowell High School junior Brian Terrero-Batista had a week to remember — meeting Wyclef Jean, receiving VIP tickets to his show, and jamming out with him post-show. See video at lowellsun.com. SUN / RICK SOBEY

LOWELL — Brian Terrero-Batista starts finger-picking and percussion- tapping his guitar on stage.

Wyclef Jean — the three-time Grammy award winner — bobs his head, swaying back and forth.

He’s catching a vibe from the 17-year-old Lowell High School junior.

“Everyone always says they think it (the unique strumming and tapping) is so cool, and then Wyclef hears it and goes wide-eyed,” Terrero- Batista recalls from last week. “That was pretty awesome.” After jamming out and talking about music at UMass Lowell last Thursday, the pop superstar handed the high schooler VIP tickets to his show in Boston later that night.

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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.”

Music & Youth Receives Generous Grant from SheGives

Boston MA, August 9, 2017 — The Music & Youth Initiative is pleased to announce receiving a generous grant from SheGives after being selected to be on their 2017 slate of nonprofit organizations.

SheGives is a Boston-based private foundation that connects committed, inquisitive donors to a broad portfolio of vetted philanthropies around Greater Boston. The vetting process ensures that SheGives members can choose to make donations to or become involved with a slate of organizations that meet a high set of financial and operational standards.  

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Music is Teen’s Lifeline

Struggling with life’s pressures, Music provides the best therapy!

18-year-old John has battled severe depression most of his life. Then this year, life got harder, and John’s depression got worse. In addition to a break-up and leaving high school, John had to move out of two separate apartments with his mother due to rising housing costs. The stress became unbearable.

Increasingly desperate, John turned to his music and to the staff at the Music Clubhouse, who were his biggest and only support systems besides his mother.

His mentors encouraged him to use music as an outlet for his emotions. John poured his heart and soul into his music and wrote an entire album. He took every opportunity available to perform and share his original songs at open mic nights, at Music & Youth events, and even on the city streets.

Reflecting on John’s determination, his Music Clubhouse Director says, “John is one of the most motivated young musicians I’ve ever worked with.”

Then came the culmination of all of John’s musicianship, hard work, and personal growth: the Music Clubhouse Showcase Event. The intensity of the event and the significance of being at the Berklee Performance Center really moved him. When it came time for his performance, John got onstage with a new confidence. Though he was trembling through a good deal of the performance, he really owned the stage. He was invigorated by sharing his lyrical diary in front of an audience of 1,000 people who were positive, attentive, and supportive.

“Performing at Berklee was amazing,” says John. “It was one of the largest audiences I had ever performed to, and being able to showcase my original material was a humbling, yet empowering experience”

It was inspiring to see John smiling and genuinely happy the entire day of the Showcase. It was inspiring to see John’s tumultuous journey eased through the process of creating and performing music. As his Music Clubhouse Director said, “John’s experience is a reminder of why we are in this line of work.”