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New education program exposes children to music at a younger age

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Posted: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 12:00 am

Local musicians looking to foster musical talent and appreciation in kids are planning an “artist-in-residency” program at area elementary schools.

When Ahwatukee Foothills resident Sherry Finzer was growing up on the East Coast, her schools began band classes in elementary school. Most Valley schools don’t start band classes until sixth grade, she said. To target younger children, she has founded the nonprofit group Arizona World Music Initiative, an education program to expose children to music at a younger age.

According to its mission statement, the nonprofit’s goal is to “inspire, create, educate and entertain children, seniors and people with special needs in the genre of world music. We create music awareness in world music, build self-esteem, and unleash musical potential in participants.”

When budget cuts force schools to scale back or eliminate music programs, it can affect children in many areas, Finzer said.

“They’re missing a huge chunk of their life, and a lot of great experiences they can have.”

Music can aid students in math and critical thinking skills, she said.

The group is holding its first fundraiser this Sunday at Il Vinaio Restaurant & Wine Bar in Mesa from 4 to 9 p.m., in an effort to raise funds to buy instruments to create sounds in schools such as Irish, African, Asian and other cultures, Finzer said.

Seven local musical groups will perform for 30 to 45 minutes each. There will also be a silent auction and raffle items to include restaurant and massage gift certificates, art, various gift baskets and a weekend trip to San Diego. The restaurant will also donate 25 percent of food sales during the concert to the group.

Although the group’s main focus is students in kindergarten through fifth grade, their program can also be tailored to special needs groups and senior centers or nursing homes, Finzer said.

The initiative plans to start contacting schools in Ahwatukee Foothills and the East Valley after they generate more funds.

In the classroom, sessions can be tailored to the school and individual teacher’s wishes, Finzer said. Depending on the size of the class, AZWMI can send one or several instructors to carry out the five-day program.

On the first visit, musicians will perform for students and introduce them to instruments. The next time, students have the opportunity to learn basic rhythmic patterns and listening skills. Kids will also learn how to recycle basic household items into musical instruments, and are invited to bring in water bottles, canisters, mint tins, wrapping paper tubes and other items on the third visit to create their own instruments. Musicians then play along with students to practice the rhythmic patterns learned earlier in the week, and the sessions conclude with a performance for other classes and parents on the final day.

Each workshop can last 30 to 60 minutes, and can be extended in a 10- to 12-week program, depending on school needs.

Joining Finzer in the program’s efforts include Gary Kiggins, who is helping develop the initiative with her; guitarist John Calvert; percussionist Jason Weidman; and flutist Leslie Lewis. The group welcomes other area artists who are willing to donate their time and talents to the initiative and students.

The fundraiser will be held this Sunday, March 7, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Il Vinaio Restaurant, located at 270 W. Main St. in Mesa. Anyone with questions or willing to donate funds or instruments such as shakers, maracas, any drums, congas and bongos, can contact Finzer at


Kathleen Gormley is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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