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Hitting the high note

The Youth Music Project continues to grow, providing opportunities for all to learn and play music


TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lily Walsh concentrates during the string class at Youth Music Project.Years ago, well before the Youth Music Project was founded in 2012, Dave and Sally Bany faced a conundrum.

There was a burgeoning singer-songwriter in the family, but she had no place to play her songs. Her school in Portland was dominated by large groups like band and choir, and local bars came with that pesky 21-and-over rule.

“What if,” they wondered, “there were a place in the area where kids could learn music and they could play music?”

With the help of the Banys’ local Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, that vision became a reality in the summer of 2012. But even then, in the very earliest stages, no one could have known just how far the Youth Music Project would come in the span of three years.

“There was a vision to have a performance space for kids that wasn’t a bar, where they could perform for friends,” Executive Director Rachel Bany said. “And it kind of morphed into a music school.”

After starting as a roving operation that moved from school to school in West Linn, the Youth Music Project was based in a small home before moving across the street to its permanent West Linn home in March 2013. Since then it has seen extensive renovations both inside and outside while growing into a vibrant hub for youth musical performance and instruction.

The nonprofit’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to provide outstanding rock, pop and country music education for youth by offering low cost lessons, free instrument use and exceptional performance opportunities.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Daegan Waagmeester, right, and Colton Widmer sing vocal in the rock band class.

To that end, Youth Music Project — which is based at the old Willamette Christian Church property on Willamette Falls Drive — now features everything from a performance hall to soundproof band practice rooms, fully equipped lesson rooms and even an art room with a kiln. The $2.5 million property was purchased by the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation in 2013.

But it’s the little things that give the Youth Music Project its distinct charm: the door handles shaped like double-necked guitars, giant piano keys painted on the walkway outside, stained glass windows evoking memories of historic rock stars, an old piano that shape-shifts into a makeshift concession window.

“It’s just a rock and roll dream come true,” said Cynthia O’Brien, outreach coordinator for youth music project. “We’re able to do something so extraordinary, and I just talk to people every day who are so appreciative. Everybody who comes in here wants to be here, every parent is grateful for the experience.”

What makes the Youth Music Project stand out is its accessibility. Unlike other tuition-based music programs, the Youth Music Project makes its 18 professional instructors available for anyone who wishes to learn an instrument or take a class — in particular those who might not be able to afford the tuition.

O’Brien said the system is very similar to the free and reduced lunch programs offered by the local school district.”We basically took that income level where you qualify for reduced lunch and we said, ‘If it’s good for them, it’s good for us,’” O’Brien said. “Each family who applies for (free and reduced lunch) will get a letter saying, ‘Your son or daughter qualifies.’ All we need is a copy of that letter ... and then we give them a 100 percent free tuition for a class.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Theo Morganson plays the keyboard during the rock band class.

This is made possible in large part through grants and donations made through the project’s “Cowbell Club” of monthly donors.

The free tuition is renewable across multiple terms, O’Brien said, if a child wants to continue taking classes. Most classes take place over 10-week sessions, though some are year-round, and are divided by four skill levels: “Roots” (for beginning students), “Rockers” (for those with more experience), “Rollers” (for those who have mastered the core skill set of an instrument) and “Seedlings” (specifically for those between the ages of one and five).

Beyond the basic “Core Instruments” classes, Youth Music Project also offers “Spotlight Classes” with specific focuses like guitar fingerpicking or “Taylor Swift Guitar & Vocal” (taught by none other than O’Brien herself).

“The whole idea is learning to play and sing at the same time,” O’Brien said. “So you can play guitar, and you can sing, but what happens when you try to do them together? How do you sit? How do you stand? Where’s the microphone?”

Each seasonal term ends with a series of student concerts.

Of course, the founding vision of the Youth Music Project was to provide a space for young people to showcase their music. That takes place on the third Friday of every month during youth open mic sessions in the performance hall. Adult open mics also take place on the third Saturday of every month.

“Performers aged 13 to 18 can come and play onstage, share their music, and parents and friends can come,” O’Brien said. “When we have couches out here (in the performance hall) with lamps, it’s a very comfortable feel.

This is a place to share your music, meet people ... it’s a really fun night.”

True to her title, O’Brien’s focus moving forward is to continue spreading the word about everything the Youth Music Project has to offer.

“I’m working with (the Department of Human Services), the foster care system, schools, looking for students who would really benefit from this experience,” she said. “Because chances are they don’t know about it and don’t think this opportunity exists for them.”

“We’re excited (about classes filling up), but we always wish we could help more,” O’Brien said.

Learn more at youthmusicproject.org.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Strings instructor Jon Lumus runs a class through warm-ups.

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