What if you were a child who loved to sing and whose voice could provide opportunities beyond your imagination, but you had no access to real training? And then, what if you found superb instruction at no cost and near your home?
What if you were a child growing up in one of Cleveland’s economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and Severance Hall was only a beautiful building you passed? And then, one year you find yourself inside, singing on stage and meeting well-known singer-songwriters, including Jason Mraz?
Yes, it happens, thanks to the Cleveland Foundation and its Arts Mastery initiative, created in 2016 and serving more than 3,000 students each year.
It has been almost a year since Tri-C and its partners expanded its newest venture, the Vocal Arts Mastery program. Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation in March 2019, Tri-C’s Creative Arts Academy has increased its number of vocal arts students to more than 200. Students in grades three to 12 are provided free vocal and choral training at the Metro campus and Cleveland Public Library’s Glenville and South branches.
“This is not an enrichment program. Those are good and necessary,” says Emanuela Friscioni, director, Tri-C Creative Arts Academy. “This program establishes vigorous instruction from day one. It’s not a walk in the park. There are things students need to practice at home, things they need to review. It requires commitment.
“We want to make sure that students have musical literacy,” she continues. “We go into neighborhoods where children have not had a chance to get high level programs and close the learning gaps between students from the suburbs and the community at large.”
Neighborhood libraries provide a safe, easily accessible location for vocal classes, as well as the opportunity for students to enhance their visits.
“If you are singing a song from Brazil, maybe you can pick up a book about that country to know more,” says Friscioni. This month, the program, in partnership with the Broadway School of Music and the Arts, will be expanding in Slavic Village. The challenge is to serve additional students with outstanding instruction without “spreading ourselves too thin,” says Friscioni. In addition to vocal training, students receive instruction in music theory, keyboard and sight-singing.
“This program removes barriers,” says the Cleveland Foundation’s Lillian Kuri, vice president, Strategic Initiatives, Arts and Urban Design. “It also provides one-on-one lessons that prepare students to go to college or a conservatory. At the Foundation, we say we hope arts at this level is as accessible as sports. We have created a system for kids to follow a track in sports, but not in other areas. It also recognizes highly talented students who may not have had a chance to excel.”
Some vocal students initially dropped out of the program, only to return after seeing the success of their peers and missing the discipline, says Friscioni.
“The skills the students learn transfer from the stage,” she adds. “One day they will have a job interview or speak in front of an audience. They will go in with confidence because they have had practice and experience. It doesn’t matter if they become a vocalist or a dancer. What they learn in the process is applicable to what they will do for the rest of their lives.”