Kidznotes: Growing bigger and brighter in Durham

Instructor Omar Ruiz-Lopez starting "Fiddles on Fire" in "1-2-3 breathe and play!" staff photo by Sarah DeWeese

Instructor Omar Ruiz-Lopez starting “Fiddles on Fire” in “1-2-3 breathe and play!” (Staff photo by Sarah DeWeese)

“Hands Up! Instruments Up!” Instructor Omar Ruiz-Lopez says to the group of young musicians. The section of Kidznotes waits expectantly for Ruiz-Lopez to raise his hands before raising their violins and playing the first note of the song of the day: “Fiddles on Fire.”

Kidznotes, a free orchestral community program for children K-8 grade, is still growing, as students and volunteers join the music program that is changing lives in East Durham and Southeast Raleigh.

Matt Bunyi, graduate student of Duke University, practices with (left to right Amir (3rd grade) and Emerson (1st grade) Staff photo: Sarah DeWeese

Matt Bunyi, graduate student of Duke University, practices with (left to right) Emerson Egeghy (1st grade) and Amir Hall (3rd grade).  Staff photo: Sarah DeWeese

Five days a week, children come to Holton Career and Resource Center on North Driver Street to learn how to read, play and sing symphony music. The program that came to Durham five years ago, through the inspiration of El Sistema, is starting to show an impact on the most dedicated students who are now expanding their knowledge of music and planning for a musical future.

Xavier, now completing his third year with Kidznotes as an 8th grader, talked about how he joined the program along with his new school: the School for Creative Studies.

“My grandma heard about [the school for creative studies] and at the time I was at Hope Valley. The year that Kidznotes started my grandma heard about it and pulled me and my sister out of Hope Valley,” said Xavier.

 Tana, Stephen, Kevin, and Jean playing Fiddles on Fire.

Tana, Stephen, Kevin, and Jean playing Fiddles on Fire.

Family support of Kidznotes is a pivotal part of the program’s growth and role in the community. It is not just about one kid learning to play an instrument but a family learning to love symphony music.

Kim Demery, the Director of Programming for Kidznotes, explains, “We impact the child which has an effect on the family and community so that we can broaden their vision of what the world can be and what they can be in it.”

Jessie, a sixth-grader finishing her fourth year in the program, conveyed this relationship with her Kidznotes experience.

“[My sister] heard me playing the violin. So she wanted to join Kidznotes. And she said the violin is hard. And I said it IS hard,” said Jessie. “So then she was like I want to play percussion! And now she is on percussion.”

Leonardo takes notes on the style of Fiddles on Fire. (Staff Photo by Sarah DeWeese)

Leonardo takes notes on the style of Fiddles on Fire. (Staff Photo by Sarah DeWeese)

Jessie and Xavier explained that everyone starts on the violin at Kidznotes and can choose another instrument after learning the basics. Jessie stuck with violin and Xavier went on to learn the viola and the guitar.

Xavier explained his switch, “I changed to something that would be a little more like my voice range. I wasn’t ready for something big to change yet so I changed to the viola.”

The guitar was something Xavier picked up in one of his songwriting courses at the School for Creative Studies.

Jessie showed her enthusiasm for the guitar class before mentioning the other family members she has in Kidznotes and how they can come together in the future.

“We have a viola cousin, a violin cousin, a trumpet cousin and a percussion sister, so we could start a band!” said Jessie.

Jessie and Xavier are a part of the more experienced section in Kidznotes called the All Stars. With more than three years of at least 10 hours of practice weekly, the All Stars play at concerts and symphonies like the one this past Saturday that Jessie and Xavier were eager to attend.

At Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh on Nov 8, a Kidznotes string quartet played for the audience prior to the symphony. Instructor Omar Ruiz-Lopez joined the five All Star musicians in playing Salsa Verde by Thom Sharp, Passacaile by Handel, and Four Royal Dances by Eric Ewazen.

While discipline is important at Kidznotes, Ruiz-Lopez is against ruling with a heavy fist. Lopez taught Kidznotes for three years now and explained his teaching style.

“I kind of came up with my own ways of keeping everyone’s attention,” Ruiz-Lopez said. He said he never liked his teachers who were always stern and angry at the little kids. Lopez explained that he mixes things up to keep them focused. “They are just kids. They should be having fun when they learn,” Ruiz-Lopez explained.

Xavier (8th grade) practices for concert on Nov 8. (Staff photo: Sarah DeWeese)

Young musicians in rehearsal (left to right) Katherine, Jamariah, Kiarra and Xavier play their part in unison for their instructor, Rashad Hayward. (Staff photo: Sarah DeWeese)

With the rapidly growing roster of children it good to know there is a balance of discipline and fun.

Ruiz-Lopez said, “We have a lot of kids, but not as many instructors and directors to help organize the kids, so we’ve been trying to get volunteers and such and we try to enforce a little bit of discipline into our everyday so that we can have a bit more room and it’ll be a little more easy for everyone.”

Volunteers like Duke graduate student Matt Bunyi help on a regular basis to teach the young musicians.

Bunyi started volunteering five weeks ago as a means of getting out of the college campus bubble and getting more involved with the community.

“This program is about so much more than just teaching music. It is about using classical music to build character. You have to learn how to take care of your instrument, and when you show up you need to know your part or else you let everyone else down, so it is also about team building,” said Bunyi.

Kidznotes is finishing the fifth year of the program with more than twice the volunteers and sponsors from two years ago. It looks like Durham’s music legacy is going to keep growing in 2015.

 (left to right) Instructor Rashad Hayward correcting the timing problems in the piece while Jessie and Eva listen intently. staff photo: Sarah DeWeese

Instructor Rashad Hayward corrects timing problems in the piece while Jessie, left, and Eva, right, listen intently. (Staff photo: Sarah DeWeese)


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