The Newport Festivals Foundation is known for its jazz and folk festivals in Newport. What is perhaps less known about the organization is that it runs several year-round programs in the area to cultivate music studies. One of them is an initiative that offers free private lessons for children on Aquidnik Island.
“Our festivals are known around the world, so we feel a real responsibility to ensure that every student in our yard has access to high-quality music instruction,” said Dan Swain, director of programs for the NFF.
A joint partnership between NFF and The Gruben Charitable Foundation, the program provides ten 30-minute lessons for up to 80 students at the Newport Music Shop. NFF also covers the rental of the tools.
“Last November we visited Thompson Middle School to donate some instruments to their band program,” Swain said. “We have started talking with the band teachers about other ways we can improve the quality of music education on Aquidnik Island. Don Chilton, the band director, mentioned that it’s hard for students who don’t have private lessons to keep up with those who do. And there are too many students in Newport who cannot afford private lessons. These students begin to fall behind and lose interest when they reach high school.
“By chance, Diana Oerli from the Gruben Charitable Foundation joined us to donate the instruments, and she mentioned that in Switzerland, where she lived for many years, the government invests in music education for children, so why shouldn’t we do the same?”
“We started brainstorming ideas and ended up bringing in Newport Music as a partner and it all came together.”
The program’s mission statement reads: “We believe that everyone deserves access to a high-quality music education.”
“A lot of people have the wrong idea of Newport being so rich [city] full of mansions,” Swain said. “This is not the real Newport. The reality is that Newport is a microcosm of the inequality going on in the rest of this country.
“I believe that many of the problems that are happening right now in our society are due to a lack of community. And music, perhaps more than anything else, has the ability to build community. Whether it’s through a festival or through student performances, we need more of these moments that bring us together.”
Private lessons are available for a variety of instruments including piano, guitar, bass guitar, drums, percussion, ukulele, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, flute, violin, viola and cello.
Students participating in the program had the opportunity to showcase their skills on December 4 at a recital in The Fifth Element.
For the NFF, the value of performance experience is a key component of the program. On December 4, drummer Junior DaSilva, 13, brought the house down.
“You get a little nervous at first, but then you just breathe,” DaSilva said. “And when you play, all the worries just disappear.”
9-year-old Hawkin Powers started taking piano lessons just 10 weeks ago, but it’s already sparked his interest.
“He’s really enthusiastic about it,” said his father Graham. “He comes home from his lesson and practices what he learned. And he is excited to learn something new. He asks if we can find other songs to play.
Hawkin described the recital experience as “kind of nerve-racking” for him.
“I thought he was going to be nervous, but he jumped right up there on the piano in front of everybody,” his father said. “And I think all the kids did too. They got right there. None of them were nervous to play. It was great.”
Hockin plans to continue with piano lessons and is also interested in taking guitar lessons in the future.
“The long-term goal is to someday have a student who has taken these classes perform on the Newport Jazz or Folk Festival stage,” Swain said.