Free piano lessons are right tune for the times
"Music is needed more than ever” now, says teacher Vivian Lark.
ROCHESTER — “A piano is just a piano,” says James Baldwin’s narrator in his short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Almost in the same breath, the narrator urges the musician “to try and make it do everything.”
Rochester pianist and singer Vivian Lark is taking this advice to heart.
She’s recently begun a program called Music Lessons for All, offering free piano lessons to area students who might otherwise not be able to participate in them.
Lark was inspired to start the Music Lessons for All nonprofit when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
“After living in Minneapolis for 12 years,” she said, “I learned the biggest problem in communities is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor. I wanted to, in a small way, bridge that gap, so piano lessons would not only be accessible to the wealthy.”
Six students are currently enrolled in Music Lessons for All, and there are sponsorships available for seven students during the initial session. Students who receive social services are eligible to apply for lessons through the program.
The first students were selected in December, and they will take piano lessons for six months that culminate in a showcase performance. Students will receive a keyboard they can keep as long as they take lessons and take part in the June performance. Required books, materials and transportation are provided as well.
Lark wrote a grant that was awarded through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to fund the first round of the program, but hopes she can keep the program going. Anyone interested in supporting Music Lessons for All can make donations through a GoFundMe page ( https://gofund.me/572adbd4 ) or contact Lark at email@example.com.
“I hope this program will inspire some young people in our community,” said Lark.
A mother of four, Lark teaches about 28 students in addition to those in the Music Lessons for All program.
Lark’s interest in music began early. She remembers getting up on the coffee table as a toddler to dance and sing during family gatherings. She started taking piano lessons when she was 7 and spent some time as a flutist.
Growing up in Rice, Minnesota, Lark says she encountered a “weird mix” of polka and country. She planned to major in vocal music in college and studied Italian arias in voice lessons in preparation. Eventually though, when she joined the DePaul University Vocal Jazz Quartet, she found a love for rich jazz harmonies.
As Lark was planning to implement Music Lessons for All, she reached out to Aikong See, the co-owner of Hope Central, “a collaborative space for the Rochester non-profit community to raise money and awareness through merchandise sales, collaboration and community service” for support. See is currently one of the board members for Music Lessons for All.
“The reason I wanted to be on the board was to help Music Lessons for All to be able to serve the under-resourced, underprivileged, and under-represented youth, young adults and adults in our community,” said See. “Music Lessons for All fits our mission at Hope Central. We are looking to allow local nonprofits to use our space to have classes held by people like Vivian.”
Lark said "music is needed more than ever” now.
“Many studies have proven that music alleviates stress and anxiety, amongst countless other benefits, yet most students only have music class twice a week," she said. "Music is therapy.”