Kidznotes and Black Violin Unite Durham, March 23, 2017 Credit: Kate Pope Photography

The takeaway from the Kidznotes’ fundraiser concert last week: there’s something very beautiful about young people participating in a positive community outlet.

What’s even more beautiful is when those children become adults—equipped and supported by the community—and are poised to make their own deep-rooted marks in this world.

That’s certainly the case with Kidznotes, a unique Triangle youth music program that was featured this month in the INDY.

The ¡Somos Kidznotes! concert took place early last Tuesday night.

“Because it’s the only night you have no other place to be but here,” Shana Tucker, Kidznotes’ executive director jokingly told the audience whose members included a goodly number of parents.

Still, there’s the nagging reality of needing more financial support from the community to fulfill Kidznotes’ goal of cultivating and nurturing future generations of citizen artists.

Tucker told the INDY that the program is in danger of closing its doors permanently if it doesn’t find multiple sustainer sources. 

“We need more money,” Tucker said, point-blank.

Tucker often relies on descriptives like “magical” and “amazing” when she talks about the program’s goal of teaching fluency with the language of music and helping to shape young minds that appreciates the art of living in community.

She praised Kidznotes’ “amazing citizen artists” who performed at the Carolina Theatre alongside former students and guest artists Larry & Joe. Larry Bellorín is a native of Venezuela, and Joe Troop is North Carolina native and Grammy-nominated folk artist. The duo met in 2021, but in that brief period have released an album that’s a fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk music. Larry & Joe will serve as artists in-residence this spring with Kidznotes.

Other highlights were performances by a chamber ensemble of string musicians that included Raleigh’s Enloe High School sophomore Felecia Adizue on violin and Kiarra Truitt-Martin, now a sophomore nursing student at UNC-Greensboro, on viola. The two artists were joined by Johns Hopkins Peabody Conservatory sophomore Marcus Gee. The “all-star trio” played a light, lively section of Ancient Airs and Dances by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, before changing pace and delivering a gorgeous, in-the-groove rendition of the classic At Last by Etta James.

The concert opened with the about 20 youngsters who make up the program’s Raleigh-Durham Ensemble offering a rousing rendition of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” made popular by Carlos Santana.

Local television journalist DeJuan Hoggard, who co-hosted the concert with Tucker, said it best. Arts programs like Kidznotes, he explained, “unlocks the potential [inside of young people] so that magic can happen.

“I would not be surprised if we woke up one day, turned on the TV, and saw a child from Kidznotes, president of the United States,” Hoggard said.

The success of Kidznotes’ alumni, many of who started with the program while they were kindergartners, also makes a compelling case for more financial community support. 

The term “all-stars,” takes on an altogether different meaning while considering former Kidznotes students who were with the program almost from its inception in 2009, and have now gone off to college to continue their music exploration, or are cutting their personal paths in other fields of work.

“There are currently about 10 who are currently matriculating from college,” Tucker said. “There are a bunch—a bazillion kids—no longer in touch with the program, who also went to college.”

Kidznotes alumni Sabine Charles and Alan Cota-Leija are among the former students enrolled in college where they are continuing their musical studies. 

Then there’s Gee, a former Kidznotes student who is on a full scholarship to study music at the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Institute. He walked out onto the stage at Carolina Theatre on Tuesday night and performed Johann Bach’s scintillating “Suite No. 1 in G Major for solo cello, Prelude.”

The piece started virtually, with a video of an elementary-age Gee playing the calm, elegant opening chords of the work in an empty, albeit grand room at the N.C. Museum of Art, before it segued into his live performance of contemplation and joy that colored the room of the Carolina Theatre as the video faded to black.

Gee, who is recipient of an El Sistema USA scholarship, earned a well-deserved standing ovation after his performance of the transcendent Bach Prelude, familiar the world over via television, film and performances by artists like Yo Yo Ma.

Gee later explained that he first started violin with Kidznotes in 2010, but later switched under the guidance of LaSaundra Booth, a former teaching artist with the music program who is the founder and executive director of the Wake Forest Community Youth Orchestra.

“And she is amazing,” Tucker said.

Gee was surprised to learn that his first cello teacher was in the Carolina Theatre for his performance.

“Without the [Kidznotes] faculty, I would not be here,” said Gee, who also thanked his parents for their unstinting support.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of Bach’s completion of his Cello Suites and is a testimony to the staying power of music upon young minds. 

Consider: Bach’s Cello Suites were first popularized by the great Spanish cellist and conductor Pablo Casals in the 1930s, years after he discovered the works in a Barcelona thrift shop in 1889 when he was just 13.

Tucker noted that Gee was in the second grade when he started with Kidznotes. Truitt-Martin and Adizue started as kindergarteners.

Starting kids with an aptitude for music also resonates with promise among Kidznotes’ “Fayetteville Street Mozarts,” a group of more than a dozen preschoolers enrolled in the program as participants named to honor the Austrian composer Amadeus Mozart. The tiny Mozarts carrying tiny violins appeared on the Carolina Theatre stage wearing bright-red T-shirts, dark trousers and black shoes that featured replicas of the shiny, ornate buckles that Mozart apparently took a fancy to.

Tucker explained that when the children first began with the program in October they were given cardboard violins that were replaced by the miniature instruments the group used to plunk out a melody to a beaming audience.

Still, the program’s financial situation is dire, but the program has a few financial irons in the fire waiting to get hot.

In December, Durham County officials notified the program that it was eligible to receive $150,000 from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act. The program is also planning an end of year campaign with the goal of raising nearly $500,000. 

Last week’s fundraising concert raised $45,785, just short of its $60,000 goal. But then on Monday, someone donated a check for $10,000 to honor the memory of its founder and driving force, Lucia Claire Hutchinson Peel Powe, described by those who knew her as an “indomitable force” and unrelenting advocate of the program who died on January 10 at the age of 91.

Maybe the greater community can do a different kind of heavy lifting to help secure the financial future of Kidznotes. 

In the spirit of that old saw, that teaches no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Maybe if 1,000 hardworking, drylongso folks contributed $10 to the cause, that $10,000 total could make quite a difference for a program that’s free of charge —  including the cost of an instrument — and offers a creative outlet for Black and brown students, with the overwhelming majority enrolled at Title 1 schools that receive federal assistance owing to the high percentage of students classified as economically disadvantaged.

“It would just be a shame if there were no Kidznotes,” Tucker said.

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