WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Christina Brier described music as a stability in her life. No matter what was going on as a child, she could always turn to her harp and find comfort in it.
Now, Brier and her childhood friend Linda Estep are trying to spread the same comfort and joy to children in Wilmington through their program Music is Life.
Estep and Brier opened the Brooklyn Arts Music Academy in Wilmington in 2018, and through that, they started the Music is Life program, bringing free music classes to 280 preschool students.
“The whole goal with the program is we’re trying to help kids improve resiliency skills. So many kids in our community have experienced a lot of adverse childhood experiences,” Brier said. “While we can’t fix all of those things, we can come into the school day and bring this joy and safety and security for them.”
The Music is Life program is in partnership with Dorothy B. Johnson Pre-K, giving students who may not have the opportunity otherwise a chance to learn to play musical instruments and participate in singing, dancing and games. The main goal of the program is to teach students resiliency and problem-solving skills by learning to play the harp or violin.
It focuses on social-emotional growth, physical, cognitive and language development in children three to five years old. And the women in charge say they’re seeing the program’s impact on the children they work with.
“It’s a very joyful and bright way to improve those things and to really engage children’s brains,” Brier said.
Estep said for many of the children they work with at the preschool, music class is where they feel most calm. She described one child in the Exceptional Children’s program who went from having numerous behavioral problems to being the most relaxed his teachers have ever seen him when the music starts. She said it’s stories like these that show why music education is “imperative to a healthy life.”
Music is a vital part of learning and developing, Estep said, and helps lower achievement gaps and stimulate learning and creativity.
The program also hosted a concert for family and friends of the preschoolers on April 29, giving the students a chance to share with their loved ones what they had learned in their music classes.
Now, the Brooklyn Arts Music Academy (BAMA) is partnering with Wilmington-area organizations to continue expanding the Music is Life program to continue giving students the chance to learn instruments and be involved in music.
The women said one of their goals when they opened BAMA in 2018 was to “diversify classical music” in Wilmington, and Brier said there’s no better time to start learning an instrument than at a young age.
“Part of our dream back when we started the school, we noticed that most of the families coming into private lessons were not families of color,” she said. “We were feeling like how can we expand and make this a more equitable community?”
Next year, 10 students involved in the Music is Life program will be granted a scholarship to continue taking music lessons to learn how to play an instrument such as piano, harp, violin, and more. The scholarships, provided by the Landfall Foundation, help students afford weekly classes, instrument rentals, and other associated costs, which Estep said can add up to around $1,500 a year – something that otherwise may not be affordable for children living in low-income parts of town.
BAMA also has several other organizations that sponsor scholarships and donate to the organization, including the Wilmington Rotary Club, Women’s Impact Network of New Hanover County, Thursday Morning Music Club, the Linda and Reid Murchison Foundation, and others.
Estep and Brier are also working to expand the program to Mary W. Howe Pre-K, allowing BAMA to reach closer to 450 children in Wilmington’s downtown neighborhoods.
“(Music is) a way to express yourself that doesn’t cause harm,” Estep said. “It connects you to people, and the more that we can connect to other human beings, the more understanding we have, the more empathy we have, the more your horizons are broadened.”