The Ivory Keys to Success

This article is excerpted from a larger article in the University of Utah Continuum. It is about the successes of teaching piano after school to at-risk elementary school students.

Kelley J.P. Lindberg
University of Utah Continuum, Vol. 19 No. 4

The third graders wait in the after-school classroom for their piano teacher. But one little boy is so excited he’s casing the hallway to learn what’s holding her up. The instructor scoots him back into line, and he sighs impatiently.

In the music room, he and his pint-sized compatriots sit before the whiteboard. Well, “sit” might be the wrong word to describe what they’re actually doing, which is perching, “fidgeting, squirming, hopping, draping, and wiggling. But they’re answering questions, too.

“That’s the G-clef!”

“That’s a half-note!”

Cassie Taylor with piano student

Cassie Olsen-Taylor, a Doctoral student in the University of Utah Music Department, works with an enthusiastic third grader.

Then they’re scampering to their pianos—sturdy black digital models, eight in the small room. Each kid grabs a pair of headphones, #ips open a book, and begins to play. Because of the headsets, the room is quiet for a minute, despite the busy “ngers. !en one child begins chanting, unaware that she’s speaking out loud. “Quarter, quarter, quarter, rest.”

The child who scouted for the teacher carries on a running monologue about the book, the headset, and the notes, and is kinetic energy personified — but he’s playing, and playing well, and is pages ahead of the others.

A third has her hand in the air, ready for the teacher to sign off on her current page so she can move on to the next.

This isn’t a private school for musically inclined protégés. It isn’t an arts-themed charter school. It isn’t Juilliard’s little cousin.

It’s Franklin Elementary, a Title I school on Salt Lake City’s west side. A school where the majority of students are defined as at-risk, either through economic circumstances or as children of single-parent families. Where kids are already being recruited into gangs.

Where twice a week, kids enrolled in the after-school program play the piano, thanks to the University of Utah’s School of Music [with the cooperation of Daynes Music].