The Miami Gardens Festival is part of the Music Education Initiative

“So darling, darling, stay close to me. Stand by me,” a teenager sings with a group of drummers and other musicians at the Betty T. Ferguson Amphitheater in Miami Gardens.

The inaugural outdoor concert was the culmination of a two-year pilot program providing free music education to more than 4,000 Miami Gardens public school students through the Miami Foundation’s Music Access Miami initiative. The goal is to expand the program to other Miami-Dade County public schools to ensure K-12 students have equitable access to music education.

“We know that when students have access to music education, there are definitely all the great benefits like academic performance…but something we’ve particularly seen over the past couple of years, these tumultuous years, it’s that arts education unlocks something deeper,” said Kunya Rowley, director of music access, arts and culture at the Miami Foundation. “It unleashes the power for young people to believe in themselves, to take risks, to create opportunities. And that’s what we want for every young person.

Principal Aisha Marrero said she saw the change in her students at North County K-8 Center, 3250 NW 207th St., Miami Gardens.

“The music really engaged all of our students’ senses,” she said.

The school, which has about 370 students, received a grant from the Miami Foundation to obtain keyboards, drums and other instruments for its music classes in grades 2 through 5. Young Musicians Unite provides school music teachers for the beginner band and drums and Guitar Over Guns runs an after-school program for children in grades 6-8 where they can create and learn different types of music, including composing and writing songs. .

A group of student performers at the inaugural Miami Gardens Youth Music Festival on Saturday, May 21. Brianna Acevedo

“You can see their smiles on their faces, you can see a sense of accomplishment,” Marrero said. “And they’re absolutely amazing, again, to have students who’ve never gotten their hands on an instrument and are playing now. It’s incredible. It’s like breathtaking. It is priceless.

The Miami Foundation’s Music Access Miami initiative began with a $4.5 million gift from philanthropist Daniel Lewis and led to the creation of the Miami Gardens Music Alliance, which currently includes 12 schools in Miami Gardens and seven organizations nonprofits: Achieve Miami, Arts for Learning, Guitars Over Guns, Miami Music Project, Young Musicians Unite, Save the Music Foundation, and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Rowley said the May 21 Miami Gardens Youth Music Festival, which included performances by students and ensembles from multiple Miami Gardens schools and other young artists from across the county, was a celebration of the progress of the alliance.

A group of college students play guitar during the inaugural Miami Gardens Youth Music Festival on Saturday, May 21. Brianna Acevedo

Lewis, in a press release, described the festival as a celebration of work that “will bridge the gap in Miami-Dade County’s music education” and serve as a “benchmark from which future progress will be measured.” Music Access Miami is also working with Miami-Dade schools to update its online map of where students have access to programs in all arts fields and where gaps exist.

Rowley, director of the initiative and alumnus of the New World School of the Arts opera program in downtown Miami, sees himself as an example of how music education can help open doors to opportunity. . The University of Florida alum can trace his passion for music to Ojus Elementary School near Aventura, where he started singing and was encouraged by his fifth-grade music teacher.

He said the musical education he had growing up helped him get a scholarship for a free ride to college and led to a career path that included performing arts with Magic City Opera, Slow Burn Theatre, Opera Naples, Florida Grand Opera, Orchestra Miami, Orchester Klezmer and M Ensemble.

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Kunya Rowley is Director of Music Access, Arts and Culture at the Miami Foundation. He is an alumnus of the University of Florida and the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami. Miami Foundation

“I feel really, really, really lucky. To experience what I did is again, it was all a fluke, and it all really came down to the zip code, where I lived,” said Rowley, in reference to the access to musical education he had growing up.

“And that’s what’s so powerful about what’s happening at Miami Gardens – students have a lot of choices. If they want to join an orchestral program, they can. If they want to learn more about the music production, they can. They want to learn as much about hip hop and/or rock as they can,” Rowley said. “What we know is there’s no prescription for music education. And that, like creativity, takes many forms. So we want students to be able to explore things that are meaningful, powerful, and relevant to them.”

This story was originally published June 2, 2022 6:06 p.m.

There’s never a dull moment in Florida – and Michelle covers it as a Realtime/Breaking News reporter for the Miami Herald. She graduated with honors from Florida International University, where she served as editor of Student Media PantherNOW. Previously, she worked as a news editor at WSVN Channel 7 and was a 2020-2021 Poynter-Koch Media & Journalism Fellow.

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