BOULDER, Colo. — Jen Pastalo Dacpano calls it an "urban guitar revolution."
"Music is a birthright," she proclaims. Everyone should have the chance to explore music as far as they want, she says.
That's why Dacpano, a school psychologist in Denver, paired up with Boulder teacher Nicole Severson to offer free and discounted guitar lessons to children after school in Denver. The roots were simple: "I loved guitar so, so much and wanted to share it with kids."
Since then, the mission has deepened, and the influence broadened. Now, Dacpano runs a company called City Strings Guitar that has taught guitar to more than 200 children in 10 schools, expanding to 15 this fall, with plans to expand into Boulder County. She and Severson are writing their own curriculum. And their fundraising efforts continue. Eventually, she hopes to offer one music class for every class purchased at regular price, a model she's borrowing from Toms Shoes.
"When music is involved, kids reach their full potential," Dacpano says. "When kids have the ability to express their artistic side, even if they're not strong in the academic realm, it can be an island of strength to them. It's dire that music stays in kids' lives in any shape or fashion."
Dacpano's sentiments are not singular. Many local music teachers offer sliding scales or packages to bring the cost down. A typical music lesson can cost about $1 per minute, which can span hundreds of dollars per month — not to mention the cost of instruments. (An upright piano, the least expensive kind, can cost thousands.)
Some music programs offer scholarships, often set up as memorial funds.
Doe Kelly, a voice teacher in Longmont, says she has thought long and hard about her prices. She says it's a tough balancing act between getting paid a fair rate and keeping her rates low enough to not push anyone away. She offers a sliding scale that has reached as low as $25 per hour.
Boulder percussionist Nick Summer says he offers drum and bass guitar lessons for all levels at only $10 per lesson, to specifically cater to lower-income students who want to learn. He is classically trained with years of national touring experience.
"My mission is to teach in a fun, clean, environment, while spreading the knowledge of music," he says.
Then there are the bigger efforts.
The Colorado Music Festival and Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts' Heartstrings program has tuition assistance (this year topping $25,000) and a musical instrument bank, with 250 instruments to rent on a sliding scale for as little as $5 a month.
At any given time, 20 to 35 percent of the group's 550 students per week receive tuition assistance, according to Kat Fritz, education director. A half-hour private lesson is $27, which can be discounted up to 50 percent, she says.
She says the program also works with the Boulder Valley School District to hold inexpensive instrument fairs for students. One Lafayette middle school teacher rents instruments for needy students out of his own pocketbook.
"We feel strongly that music education contributes to realizing the full potential of every child, and no one should ever be denied the opportunity to explore and experience music due to financial circumstances," Fritz says.
The Parlando School for the Arts, which runs out of the Dairy Center in Boulder, has helped more than 500 students with more than $200,000 in assistance since 2007. The lessons are subsidized by grants and donations.
"We prefer that students pay something so they have ownership in the process, but sometimes that's not a monetary transaction. It could be volunteering to help with office tasks," says Travis LaBerge, executive director and founder.
The need for help is on the rise, he says. In the past two years, the number of requests has doubled, with the average request increasing by about 30 percent. Whereas the school's rates have not changed in three years, LaBerge says it's fair to assume "they're asking for more because they can afford less."
Most of the students receiving assistance were hit by the economic downturn, are out of work and are having to make cutbacks.
"Music is one of the things that gets cut back, because you have to eat. You have to have a roof over your head. Those are the decisions many of these families are having to make," LaBerge says. "If we can help them bridge the gap, then the students aren't as impacted. This is a way to retain some sort of normalcy."
Studies show that music benefits people in a wide range of ways: academically, socially and cognitively — and this may be even more important for lower-income kids, LaBerge says. Fostering a music talent may lead to college scholarships or other opportunities that can help level the playing field, regardless of what household you were born into.
A few years ago, two students who were on tuition assistance landed roles in national tours of Broadway shows, he says.
For other students, music has been one of the few positive things in their lives during a stressful time at home. Other students have received temporary assistance and when they got back on their feet, they began donating to the scholarship fund for other students.
"The professional musicians of tomorrow — who will be the people we listen to on the radio, who will populate our national and local orchestras and performance groups — those professionals are made up of the students of today," LaBerge says. "It's really important those groups are as diverse as possible."
Tricia Moreland, 11, volunteers at Parlando to help subsidize her voice lessons. Tricia has a long resume for being so young, including the lead role in "Annie Warbucks" at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, and roles at major theaters such as the Arvada Center and the Denver Center.
Then, two years ago, her dad, Terry Moreland, suffered two strokes that forced him to retire early from his position as executive director of a nonprofit in Denver. The family's income was slashed by 50 percent, even with his retirement savings, and Tricia had to give up her weekly voice lessons.
She was afraid her vocal abilities were suffering, and in the last six month, she missed out on a number of opportunities she felt she would have otherwise been successful with.
It was hard to accept the fact that they needed help, her dad said.
Now, Tricia is volunteering in the Parlando office, which she loves anyway, because it keeps her close to people who share her passion for the arts.
"Even though I am her father and expected to feel this way, I truly believe that Tricia has gifts that would have otherwise been wasted — or at least not fully realized — if it had not been for the assistance we have received from Travis LaBerge and the instructors at Parlando School of the Arts," Moreland says. "We are truly grateful that they see beyond the usual dollars and cents to involve themselves in an even more important mission."
Information from: Daily Camera, http://www.dailycamera.com/