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 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 whiteboard, 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 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.”


Marching to the Beat of an… iPad

What instrument did you play growing up? Maybe guitar, violin, or piano? Could you imagine your instrument being an iPad?

For hundreds of teens, a state-of-the-art iPad station is their instrument. And they are learning to be top-notch DJs, producers, composers, beatmakers, and musicians using this technology.

At the 2017 Music Clubhouse Showcase at Berklee Performance Center, 4 DJs on iPad stations wowed the crowd with their original beats and electronic compositions in between the bands’ sets. One DJ making his debut in front of the hundreds in the audience, called this opportunity an “eye-opening experience!”

Other iPad musicians joined their Clubhouse bands on-stage, using the iPads as accompaniment instruments to trigger drum sounds, pre-recorded drum beats, and virtual instruments as part of the overall ensemble.

Within the Music Clubhouse setting, the iPads are making a difference every single day. For youth who struggle to reach proficiency on traditional instruments, the iPad stations are transformative and empowering! Take 15-year-old Aaron, for example. When he was introduced the iPads, he was able to learn beat-making quickly and excel at it. This became his focus for mentoring younger participants, and it was a real game-changer for him. “When the beat making stations came, I began to take the lead,” says Aaron. “Now I am one of the main beat-making instructors. This has been a valuable experience, because it helped me… to grow and succeed in so many ways.”

“Hard Work Pays Off” – More Than Just a Cliche for Sabine

“Groupie.” That’s how Sabine was known around her Boys & Girls Club when she was only 6-years-old. She wore the title with pride, because she had earned it! Sabine attended every performance of the house band and helped out carrying equipment and setting up the stage. Her dedication was unmatched, as she continued to help in this way for many years. She eventually was promoted to a new, more suitable title: “Sound/Equipment Engineer.”

“Having known Sabine for years,” says her Music Clubhouse Director, “it has been an incredible experience watching her grow from that shy sweet little girl that loved helping me set up for shows to a well-rounded, intelligent, confident, and simply amazing young adult.”

Fast forward to age 15, and Sabine can now add “Bass Player” to her list of titles at the Music Clubhouse. When the Club’s band that she had idolized as a young child needed a new bass player, Sabine stepped up to the plate. She recently learned the basics of the guitar in her lessons and figured she could apply these skills to the bass. She was right. Her 6-year-old self had set the stage for years of commitment and enthusiasm, and now she was reaping the rewards.

“Through music I was able to find my purpose,” says Sabine, the bass player. Hard work pays off.