Berklee College of Music clubhouses are music to the ears of Boston kids
Through free concerts, workshops and educational programs, Berklee College of Music students and professors regularly share the love of music and performance with the Boston community.
Abria Smith knows exactly how influential community music programs can be. Currently Berklee’s associate director for community affairs, she took part in them when she was younger and they led her to Berklee — first as a student and now as an administrator.
In her role Smith works as a liaison between Berklee and the city agencies that help the college run music programs for youth across the city, including the Mayor of Boston’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.
Working out of the Berklee President’s Office of Education Outreach, Smith produces events such as the free Tito Puente Latin Music Series, Swingin’ in the Fens and Jazz at the Fort concerts in Roxbury, the South End, the Fenway, East Boston and Jamaica Plain.
Berklee also targets youth from the fourth grade through high school with its nonprofit educational program, Berklee City Music. This program uses Berklee students and graduates to help teach kids music. The Berklee City Music program was launched in Boston in 1991 and has since been established in other cities, including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle.
Smith says her goal is to take Berklee’s resources out into the community and find ways to work with community groups and organizations.
One of the most successful ways Berklee has collaborated with community groups is through its Music Clubhouse program. A Music Clubhouse is permanent music instruction space at community organizations that kids can use to take music lessons and practice. Berklee and some of its partners typically donate equipment needed, such as computers, keyboards, guitar amps and drums. Each Music Clubhouse also has Berklee students who work there teaching music.
There are six Music Clubhouses in Boston. These are at the Blue Hills Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester, The Yawkey Club of Roxbury, the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, the West End House Boys and Girls Club in Allston, the Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain and Sociedad Latina in Roxbury.
“The cool thing about the Music Clubhouses is it is just an added component to the youth development agencies,” Smith said. “The students who really show interest and talent can actually take private lessons there. They can move from a group lesson situation where they are just being exposed to something new to something a little more intensive.”
While Berklee has had a number of Boston students go on from these programs to other Berklee youth programs and — like Smith — go on to the study at the school in college, for most it is just a good chance to experience and get exposure to music.
“It definitely helps to bring some students out of their shells,” Smith said.
According to Ayeisha Mathis, music director at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, Berklee and its students are essential to the success of their Music Club House, which was opened about five years ago.
While Berklee gave resources and equipment to help set the clubhouse up the most important contribution the school makes is supplying students as staff to run the programs on a semester-by-semester basis. Mathis said there is one in-house staff member that works with the music program and a few interns, but the Boys and Girls Club relies on the two or three Berklee students that are there each semester.
The Music Clubhouse at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Typically there will be one hour of open music time then classes and group activities. Classes include guitar, piano, drums, bass and studio recording.
“[Berklee students] are very important to running a successful program,” Mathis said. “The kids respond very well to the students and I believe it is because of their passion for music and it comes across.”
Mathis pointed out that the Berklee students enjoy the experience as well and most return to work again beyond their initial semester-long commitment.
“That is because of the relationships that they build with students. …. It is almost like a little family and the relationships are meaningful,” Mathis said. “Because they build meaningful relationships it helps in the development of the class.
“It is a fun environment and it is very engaging and the kids really like being here,” she added.
Berklee’s Smith said it is very important to bring the music to the kids in the communities where they live. “We find that a lot of students tend to not really go outside of their neighborhood for things. … In order to really expose them to those opportunities you have to meet them where they are.”
Berklee also tries to bring music to the community as a whole through its concerts and performances around the city. Smith says the college will work with all community groups and nonprofits interested, usually free of charge.
“One of the things people often do is contact the office for entertainment but might not have the budget for it,” Smith said. “We can identify volunteer performers or pay them.”
Berklee will also donate blocks of tickets for on-campus performances to community organizations, including neighborhood associations and senior centers.
“For Berklee it offers a fresh new audience for the concerts that are going on. For the community it offers the opportunity to take advantage of great musicians free of charge that they otherwise might not have attended,” Smith said.
Smith grew up in Roxbury, attending Boston Public Schools, then she went to Milton Academy and finally on to Berklee on a scholarship. She said she is happy to think her work with the school could help others in a way she was helped. “I felt that was a really opportunity to come back and work in the office that made it possible for me to attend Berklee,” she added.
Smith studied voice and majored in music management while at Berklee. She also has a master’s degree in education from Cambridge College. She is a singer, songwriter, performer and recording artist. She has written plays that have become staged productions, acted in theater and films, and published a book of poetry. Her most recent work, a book of poetry, is “Someday Soup.”
“I actually have to pinch myself and ask myself, ‘Am I actually being paid to do this?’ I am grateful to have the opportunity to do what I am doing,” Smith said. “Music is the thing that helped me grow and help me provide my voice. … It definitely feels good to help provide those opportunities to other students … and to give back in the community I grew up in.”