Cooperative opens door to musical opportunity

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 27, 2012 - 12:27 AM

The Hopewell program aims to give aspiring musicians of all ages an affordable chance to learn how to play instruments.

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Kayaira Barnes, 10, takes weekly violin lessons at a north Minneapolis church from teacher Ellie Fregni, right, through Hopewell North Music Collective. Also pictured is Anna Mills, left, 17, a student of Fregni’s who assists with lessons as an apprentice.

At age 7, Kayaira Barnes knew she wanted to play the violin. By 8, she had saved up $50 by doing odd jobs for her great-grandmother.

She bought a used violin that needed to be restrung, but Barnes didn't give up. After she toted it everywhere, family friends helped her pay $100 to have the job done.

There was just one more hurdle -- she needed to learn to play.

"She wished for lessons, she asked to take them," said Carlotta Madison, Barnes' great aunt. "There was no money for that."

But starting this spring, Barnes, now 10, was able to begin weekly private lessons through Hopewell North Music Cooperative, a nonprofit program based in north Minneapolis. Hopewell caters to students of all ages by offering affordable lessons from experienced teachers; the cost is based on a family's ability to pay.

"Our mission is to reach out to all people and to overcome barriers to participation in music," said Ellie Fregni, one of Hopewell's founders and a musician and teacher specializing in violin and viola. "We wanted to start a music program that was about access."

Hopewell's larger aim is to expand the sense of community in north Minneapolis by encouraging those of all ages, cultures and ability levels, including people with disabilities, to connect through music.

"Music is one of those things that really brings people together. It transcends language and culture -- and that's why it's so useful in building community," said Dameun Strange, another Hopewell co-founder who is also a composer and musician.

A shared passion

For Jaette Carpenter of north Minneapolis, starting a community-based nonprofit dedicated to affordable music education has been a lifelong dream. She has taught in both public and private schools; in addition to giving voice, guitar and piano lessons, she has been involved in directing musical theater and music at her church.

She and Fregni began exploring the idea of starting such a program a year and a half ago. After meeting Strange while playing in a show last summer, the three discovered a mutual passion for giving kids access to music, and the Hopewell idea took off.

"I wanted to give these kids the same chance to learn music as a kid in the suburbs would get, because I've seen the talent here," Carpenter said. "I noticed there was a really low amount of music in urban schools especially."

Today, Hopewell has eight music teachers and two other volunteers. The community's interest in the program has been tremendous; after an open house in April and other outreach efforts, teachers' schedules are filling up.

Fregni gives about 15 weekly lessons and Carpenter has 37 students, ranging from age 6 to 87. More than half of the students receive lessons at a reduced cost or for free. The rate for those who pay full price is intended to be affordable at $20 for a half-hour lesson. Hopewell also is open to bartering or having students act as teachers' apprentices.

None of Hopewell's teachers are currently paid, though Carpenter says that will change as soon as Hopewell can make it happen financially.

Future plans

An early concern for Hopewell was finding space to give lessons; several north Minneapolis churches and Webber Community Center offered to be satellite sites.

"We're a music school in a suitcase," Carpenter said.

On Monday nights, Carpenter also directs and plays piano for the Hopewell community choir at the Camden Care Center nursing home. The choir is an example of how Hopewell is engaging the community through music.

And Hopewell has no shortage of future plans. This month, students will begin having public recitals, and Strange plans on offering music theory classes soon. Eventually, Hopewell would like to offer local composers a forum to premiere new music and provide ensemble groups for students.

As for Barnes, she's been busy learning how to hold her bow, and has learned to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

"My goal is to make a good sound out of it," Barnes said.

What does getting to take violin lessons mean to her?

"Everything," she said.

Erin Adler is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

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