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Continued: A higher key: Music program helps kids learn new skills

At a recent fundraiser for the program, jazz pianist Nachito Herrera teamed with a group of much more advanced students, members of the Minnesota Youth Symphony, to perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” conducted by Manny Laureano, principal trumpet for the Minnesota Orchestra and co-director of the Youth Symphony.

The concert opened with a brief performance by the El Sistema kids, who played the few notes they know so far with gusto. Then they watched the rest of the show from front-row seats.

Budding violinist Jalia Hall’s parents, Eric and Franzetta Hall, were in the audience, cheering their daughter on.

“I was surprised she wanted to play the violin,” said Mom. “But I’m supportive because it really enriches her learning at school. Any kind of music does, but I want her to know that music means more than rap or hip-hop.”

Laureano said the El Sistema students reminded him of himself when he was growing up in East Harlem — but with a head start.

“I didn’t start playing the trumpet till I was 12,” he said. “It gave me a voice at a time when I really needed one and allowed me to feel like I was doing something substantial. When you’re a kid you can get caught up in so many superficial or negative things. Music helps you stand out for all the right reasons.”

Back in the school music room, Tremell Caldwell stood under a large poster of jazz great John Coltrane, asking, “Can I go outside now?”

Morgan-Brist said yes, but first asked him to read aloud from a handwritten note addressed to him by one of the program’s supporters.

“I am proud of you,” he read slowly. “Your talent amazes me.”

He broke into a broad grin, then bolted for the door.


Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046


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  • Luna Barban-Sanchez, center, wasn't about to be distracted by a bit of Miranda Devora Hernandez's hair caught in her bow as they performed at a fundraiser for the El Sistema music program at North High School in Minneapolis. Fellow student Alicia Ibarra-Martinez is at left.

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