No musician left behind is music plan

January 16, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

A school guidance counselor recently asked Alvin Roda, owner of the Laurel School of Music, whether he could lend a child a string instrument.

The girl wanted to learn to play in the school orchestra, but her mother could not afford an instrument, the guidance counselor said. Roda provided a violin for the child.

"She loved the violin, and she loved getting music lessons," said Roda, 44, of Laurel. "The guidance counselor told me that she sleeps with her violin."

The child's response inspired Roda to start a program to help children get musical instruments. He recently started an initiative to provide instruments for children who are unable to afford them, he said.

"There are a lot of children out there with a desire to play an instrument, but they don't even try because they know their parents can't afford one," he said. "I'm the owner of a music school, and our mission is to promote access to musical programs. Providing instruments to children who can't get one is one way of doing that."

To introduce his program, Roda said, he is sending letters to band instructors, directors and guidance counselors at all schools in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Once the children are identified, instruments of their choice will be provided to them for two years, he said. At the end of that time, Roda said, he will give the children who receive violins their instruments. The children who receive brass instruments may need to pay a small fee, depending on the parents' financial situation, he said.

"I think that knowing that they can have the instrument will provide enough of an incentive that the children will take care of the instrument," he said. "Also, it's a reward for them, because they stuck with their music instruction."

Brian Flood, assistant director of Musika, a national program started in 2001 that provides private lessons around the country, including the Baltimore region, said he sees a need for such a program, though it might be difficult to sustain.

"I think any child would benefit from such a program," Flood said. "But I'm not sure how successful it would be because it will require a lot of time, and money."

Roda's interest in music stems from years of playing instruments as a child, including the piano, saxophone, violin and trumpet, he said. Although he played in school bands, music was his hobby.

He attended law school at the University of Baltimore and in 1992 became a lawyer. After spending 13 years as an attorney, Roda was seeking a career change. About that same time, the Laurel School of Music went on the market.

"The school was for sale, and I thought the timing was perfect," Roda said. "I took a leap and bought it."

From the time he purchased the school, he said, he wanted to find ways to get children enthusiastic about music. So last year, he started a rock band program, which includes four bands.

"I wanted to give my guitar students an additional avenue to play their music," he said. "I wanted it to be something that would be a natural progression of their music."

The bands included an all-girls band, Broken Streetlights; a high school rock band, the Super Happy Fun Time Band; an adult band, the Laurel School of Music House Band, and Yellow Grenade, a 13-and-younger band that includes two vocalists, two drummers, and three guitarists.

The instrument program was added as another way to nurture a child's interest in playing a musical instrument, Roda said.

He has five violins to start the program, he said, and is planning fundraisers and instrument drives. He also plans to line up sponsors to provide instruments.

"I want to grow this program, so that eventually I can provide instruments to children in any of the four neighboring counties who want one," he said. "I want any child who wants to play a musical instrument to be able to play one."

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