Free Music Lessons Strike A

Free Music lessons for Kids

  • Nikia Cliff II, 6, throws paper airplanes with his Major Chords for Minors piano instructor, Bruce Leaman, after Cliff's lesson. "I had a lesson cancellation, " Leaman explained. "So we're killing time until Nikia's older brother is done with his drum lesson."

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Erikka Wilkins (left), 12, waits for her father, Carl Wilkins (seated), before heading home, as Katrina Vowell (center) jokes with Joyous Austin, 5.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Guitar, drums and piano instructor Loren Kranz (left) listens to Natalya Andrews, 8, play "Up on the Housetop" during Andrews' piano lesson. Kranz started teaching instrument lessons through Major Chords for Minors in September of 2014 and now gives lessons to 32 students Monday through Thursday.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Tanzania Cantrell (from left), 13, and her guitar teacher, Ryan Fitzgerald, talk about wrist cramps while Katrina Vowell talks to guitar instructor Mike Tesch before one of his lessons begins.

    Nikia Cliff II, 6, throws paper airplanes with his Major Chords for Minors piano instructor, Bruce Leaman, after Cliff's lesson.Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • John Vowell (right) shows Tiasa Cantrell, 13, photos on his phone. Cantrell comes to Major Chords for Minors to hang out with John and Katrina while her twin sister takes guitar lessons.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Major Chords for Minors instructor Bruce Leaman (left) and Paige Rosas, 12, look through music books to find some songs for Rosas to practice with during her piano lesson.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Nikia Cliff II, 6, colors on the chalkboard inside the Major Chords for Minors office before his piano lesson, while his older brother Khalil Cliff, 10, takes a nap before his drum lesson.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

  • Artwork made for instructor Ryan Fitzgerald decorates the plastic barrier between his studio space and fellow instructor Mike Tesch's.

    Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

Saginaw, Mich., is one of those places where economic recovery has been slow to arrive. The city has been hit hard over the years by factory shutdowns. Unemployment is high. And people have left, by the thousands.

Guitar, drums and piano instructor Loren Kranz (left) listens to Natalya Andrews, 8, playNow, residents John and Katrina Vowell are trying to help turn things around — with music.

The couple says they love Saginaw, despite its many problems, which include high poverty, drugs and drive-by shootings.

The city doesn't look that bad — there are tidy, modest homes, small fenced-in yards and some new restaurants and luxury apartments.

John and Katrina Vowell both grew up around Saginaw, Mich., and are committed to their community. Pam Fessler/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Pam Fessler/NPR

But there are also plenty of boarded-up buildings and empty lots, where abandoned houses have been torn down to reduce blight.

"This was a car town, " says John, as he drives around the city. "This was GM, and everything and all the companies that built parts for GM, and it's all pretty much gone."

But he and his wife have stayed. They both grew up around here. John is 56, with a thick sweep of gray hair. Katrina is 49, with short dark hair and bright eyes.

As they drive past a long line of cars outside a funeral home, Katrina wonders if the funeral might be for Laquavis Cooper, a teen shot at a local park a few days earlier.

"He had just gone to Chicago, and was back visiting his aunt and got killed, " she says.

Such incidents have raised concerns about the fate of the city's youth. The Vowells say people are trying to improve life in Saginaw, but there isn't much for kids to do in their spare time.

So when the Vowells were trying to turn their own lives around a few years ago, they decided to start a program called Major Chords for Minors. It provides free private music lessons — and instruments — to kids who can't afford them. That's a lot of people in Saginaw, where the poverty rate is more than 37 percent.

Tanzania Cantrell (from left), 13, and her guitar teacher, Ryan Fitzgerald, talk about wrist cramps while Katrina Vowell talks to guitar instructor Mike Tesch before one of his lessons begins. John Vowell (right) shows Tiasa Cantrell, 13, photos on his phone. Cantrell comes to Major Chords for Minors to hang out with John and Katrina while her twin sister takes guitar lessons. Major Chords for Minors instructor Bruce Leaman (left) and Paige Rosas, 12, look through music books to find some songs for Rosas to practice with during her piano lesson. Nikia Cliff II, 6, colors on the chalkboard inside the Major Chords for Minors office before his piano lesson, while his older brother Khalil Cliff, 10, takes a nap before his drum lesson.

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