By Jody Feinberg, The Patriot Ledger, March 9, 2015
The Music Clubhouse in the Germantown Neighborhood Center lets kids use a professional-quality music studio with about $40,000 worth of equipment, including an insulated sound booth trucked in from Nashville and a recording and mixing room.
Quincy, MA – Jakari LaGrant, 10, held the microphone and sang a heart-felt version of “Shake Your Groove Thing,” ending with a big grin of accomplishment.
“I wasn’t going to sing, because I got a little shy and was scared,” Jakari said. “But she convinced me I could do it. I didn’t want to let her down.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, Jakari practiced his song for Dawnmarie Salmons, the director of the new Music Clubhouse at Germantown Neighborhood Center in Quincy. Later that week, he performed it at Legends Night, the clubhouse’s first community event.
Opened in November, the Music Clubhouse is no Mickey Mouse environment. It’s a professional- quality music studio with about $40,000 worth of equipment, including an insulated sound booth trucked in from Nashville and a recording and mixing room. It has three Mac computers with MIDI keyboards where kids can create music with Garage Band, Pro Tools and other music software, as well as acoustic and electric guitars, drum sets and electronic pianos which they can use for private and group lessons.
“It’s state of the art,” said Salmons, a musician and 2013 music therapy graduate of Berklee College of Music. “Kids don’t know what that is until they walk in.”
One of 10 music clubhouses in the state, it’s a collaboration between the South Shore YMCA and Music & Youth, an 11-year-old nonprofit dedicated to providing music opportunities to youngsters in low-income communities. The aim is to use music to give kids a creative outlet that will help them gain confidence, collaborate and set goals.
Above all, the clubhouse is meant to be a fun, secure place.
“This will change lives,” said Kathy Quigley, the executive director of Germantown Neighborhood Center, which is next to a large community of public housing.
It’s an unusual resource for youngsters whose families ordinarily would be unable to provide such music experiences. For $25 a year, Quincy residents ages 10 to 18 can drop in from 3 to 8 p.m. weekdays. They also can receive homework assistance and stay for a family-style dinner. Eventually, weekend hours and teen nights will be added.
On a recent day, it clearly was a happy place for the two dozen elementary and middle school kids, most of whom attend Snug Harbor Elementary and Broad Meadows middle schools. They laughed when Chris James, clubhouse assistant director and the center’s youth and family director, led a rap while Salmons drummed. Three girls and a boy formed a circle with their guitars. Another boy did drum rolls.
Salmons – part teacher, cheerleader and mentor – coaxed a performance out of a trio of 10-year-old girls, who stood at microphones before a large wall-mounted Apple TV and sang to a YouTube video of Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody.”
Madison Roberson, Kiara Ebanks and Leanne Gomes were spirited during their dance break, but soft and stiff at the microphones.
“I’d say you gave me 50 percent,” said Salmons, after showing them how to avoid feedback from the microphone. “We need to zone in to your inner Whitney and not think about the audience. I know all of you have it in you. Sing from your belly, loud and proud!”
After the girls practiced in the sound booth, Salmons said, “I saw Whitney. That’s what I wanted.”
In the coming months, the kids will receive private and group lessons, once enough volunteers are in place to assist Salmons and James. For now, they’re allowed to strum, drum and pick out keyboard tunes on their own, once they receive an orientation from Salmons. And everyone is welcome to sing at open-mic and karaoke evenings.
Salmons enjoys recording the kids when they sing in the sound booth and then playing back their voices so they can hear themselves and see how tracks are recorded.
“They close the door, put their headphones on and are in another world,” she said. “They love that booth. It’s just so legit.”
Salmons, who spent some of her childhood in Section 8 housing and foster homes in Dorchester, said she knows the power of music to provide direction and resilience.
“Music was my escape from the hardships I faced,” she said. “A lot of these kids also have tough living situations. Music can be a positive force in their lives. If we can plant the seed, they’ll have it for life.”
In just a few months, Salmons said she already has seen kids thrive, such as Rebecca Fitzpatrick.
“I’ve always wanted to have guitar lessons and I like to sing,” said Rebecca, 12, who performed “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan at Legends Night. “It’s fun here and very special. It brings out the love to everybody and the dreams they have.”