Several years ago, Jason and the Christ Church choir made a commitment. Instead of using the offering from Lessons & Carols for the church music program, they wanted to donate it to support young musicians. That led to a partnership with Mt. Vernon Woods Elementary School, where parishioner Kristi Thomas directed a band that included every fifth and sixth grader. 

But when Kristi retired and we were not sure the school would maintain its commitment to music, we adopted a different approach. Over chips and margaritas at Austin Grill, the three of us embarked on a new way to give the gift of music.

With Kristi’s help, we identified a small group of students that we now call the Kids of Note. All of them had been in Kristi’s band. All were musically talented. And every single one of them was someone we were pretty sure would slip through the cracks without some help from us.

Music is the hook we have used to stay in their lives. Obviously we believe in the intrinsic value of music – and we were deeply troubled to find that although Kristi would start hundreds of students in music, by the time they reached high school almost none of them would still be in band.

That came about for a billion little reasons – students needed $100 for a band trip and they did not have it; other kids got private lessons and they couldn’t afford them; the band director at their school would not take the trouble to pick out a really outstanding instrument for them to rent (they exist) but would just give them an old beater; and of course the Guidance department would not help them with the inevitable scheduling issues to keep them in music.

So that is what we do. We have paid band fees and sent young musicians on trips. We are just one trombone shy of giving every kid an instrument. The wonderful Bryan Bourne, a HUGELY gifted trombone player, not only gave private lessons to three rising ninth grade boys, but actually motivated them to practice all summer. (These kids are at a terrific, but slightly goofy age, which has made this an ongoing adventure. Our favorite Tweet of all time, from just before the first trombone lesson: "Ms. Thomas, should I bring a trombone?")

We also support students in non-musical ways. As a former school board member, Kris Amundson knew first hand that the school system can do amazing things – but that kids do sometimes fall through the cracks. And, sadly, students who are poor and whose parents don’t speak English very well are more likely than others to have it happen to them.

So we coach students in the skills they need to self-advocate. Case in point: the Guidance department told one student he shouldn’t sign up for band because he really should take shop. (They gave it a fancy name, but it was shop.) We affirmed for him that he was entitled to ask for a schedule change. We might have fussed a little that although some people might have low expectations for him, he did not need to buy into them. We helped him practice what to say to his counselor. He is now in the band, and he’s gained a sense of agency that is one of the non-academic skills we are hoping to teach.

Another student desperately wanted enroll in a high school outside his official attendance zone. (This is basically impossible.) But with a lot of heavy lifting, and some serious prayers, we finally made it work. He’s in the right school, in the top band, in all Honors classes. And – even more amazing – he’s on the right bus!

A lot of what we do is improvisation – we identify a need and we try to fill it. What we do know is this: one of the ways to close the achievement gap is to help students find something they are passionate about – in this case, music. Then just give them every single chance to succeed by helping them overcome all the barriers that get in their way.

None of it would happen without the money that Christ Church, Jason, and the choir continue so generously to direct toward Kids of Note. Those funds allow us to make sure the kids can do what they so obviously love and are good at. 

Some time this fall, you’ll hear the World Famous Kids of Note Trombone Quartet* at a worship service. You may read some blog posts from young musicians describing what this program means to them.

There are always ways to help – we’re planning a pizza and dessert party after marching band season and can use help funding that (teenage boys eat a lot). Students always need rides after band trips. They will be starting to think about college in a year or so, which means six college essays – we are overwhelmed just thinking about it! Contact any of us if you would be willing to assist in any of those ways.

 We’re not sure where Kids of Note will go in the future. We have tried to listen carefully to where God is leading us and then move in that direction with the faith that the resources would be there. For now, we are content that we are making a huge difference in the lives of some talented students. Thanks to everyone at Christ Church for making that possible.

*World famous – As the song says, it’s a small, small world. 

-- Jason Abel, Kris Amundson, and Kristi Thomas

 

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Some of the students at a local football game, playing instruments, and reminiscing over their younger band days