Meet the music

New Jersey Kiwanians fund a hands‑on music program for kids.

Story by Julie Saetre | Photos by Gail Mooney

It’s an early May evening in Toms River, New Jersey, and more than 60 children and adults have gathered in an auditorium at the Ocean County Library.

Despite the setting, they’re not waiting for story time or a step-by-step craft class. In a matter of minutes, the sounds of trumpets, trombones and tubas will fill the air, thanks to a Kiwanis club sponsored event called Blazing Brass.

In 2017, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Toms River committed US$30,000 for a three-year initiative with the Garden State Philharmonic to create the Kiwanis Music for Young People program. That year, the partnership resulted in the orchestra’s first youth chorus. The Garden State Youth Orchestra debuted in year two, and 2019 brought Meet the Music, a monthly series of hands-on educational sessions/workshops for children ages 6 to 12. In addition to May’s brass-focused program, Meet the Music included Beat the Drum (percussion), Wild and Wacky Woodwinds (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones) and Strings and Things (violins, violas, cellos, basses).


After all four instrumental groups had been covered, Meet the Music concluded with a concert performed by the Garden Sate Philharmonic Youth Orchestra to showcase how
all instruments come together to form a symphony of sound. The partnership with the philharmonic developed through a mutual goal of introducing children to the joys and benefits of music.

“Music is really a life skill that kids can utilize to improve their lives, improve their concentration,” says Marshall Kern, a Greater Toms River Kiwanian who helped develop the Kiwanis Music for Young People initiative. “If we can interest kids and nurture kids to learn music and get involved with education programs with music, it helps kids focus on becoming better students. It creates discipline if you take lessons. You have to have a certain discipline to achieve in music.”

Studies support Kern’s views. In 2018, the Arts Education Partnership — a coalition of more than 100 education, arts, cultural, government, business and philanthropic
organizations in the United States — released an updated version of its 2011 report, Music Matters. Upon review of multiple research studies, AEP found that music education equips students with foundational learning skills — bolstering student engagement and achievement in other academic subjects and developing abilities they will need for lifelong success.


The list of specific benefits is impressive, including enhanced fine motor skills, working memory, vocabulary, critical thinking, attentiveness, perseverance, creativity and self-esteem. Members of the Garden State Philharmonic and its youth orchestra led each of the first four Meet the Music sessions. First up was a history of the featured instruments, followed by the youth and adult musicians demonstrating how to play each one. Then children and their families had the opportunity to test-drive a tuba or sample a saxophone, thanks to instruments provided by retailer Music & Arts.

“It sounded noisy,” says Mary Alice Smith, a Kiwanian who also worked closely with Kiwanis Music for Young People. “But everybody was laughing, smiling and just in awe of the beauty of the instruments.”

Adds Kern, “The faces glowed.”

Kiwanis members, decked out in club-branded gear, provided guidance and encouragement. In fact, a side benefit to the three-year endeavor was increased exposure for the club itself. The Garden State Philharmonic promoted Kiwanis Music for Young People and its components prominently in concert programs and educational brochures and on its website and social media.

The Kiwanians did their part to raise awareness as well, spurred on by Kern and Smith.


“We really got the word out through our social media,” says Sam Mangiapane, the club’s immediate past president. “That recognition alone was getting the Kiwanis
name out there to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. So people are constantly seeing that this is just another way that we’re giving back to the community and helping local families and children.”

Meet the Music so enthralled some families that they returned for multiple sessions.

“It was an opportunity for the children and their parents to have an activity that they’re both enjoying, versus a parent saying to a child, ‘You need to take a musical instrument lesson,’” explains Smith. “You could see the parents were very open for their children to try out different instruments. It was a very positive interaction.”

The youth chorus, youth orchestra and Meet the Music combined to make such a successful three-year project that the club’s board voted unanimously to extend its support of Kiwanis Music for Young People for a fourth year.

The result: a new $10,000 commitment for 2020.“Maybe children learn about musical instruments in school,” Smith says, “but this is a whole different
way of learning. It’s become fun. And I think it’s something they’ll always remember.”


This story originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.



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