Top Musicians Teach Classical Guitar, Keep Kids Off the Street

Jorge Martinez Photography
Miami has both a burgeoning entertainment sector and serious social problems. Young Musicians Unite (YMU) is a nonprofit music program that hopes to use one to solve the other. YMU pairs at-risk adolescents from Overtown and Wynwood with professional musicians. "YMU provides consistency, leadership, and support for our students," says the program's CEO, Sammy Gonzalez. "We keep students off the streets and playing music. Our classroom slowly becomes their second home and their peers their family."

Gun violence in America is by far the worst of any developed country — we have five times the rate of Canada and some 4,500 percent that of the United Kingdom. With five months of 2017 yet to come, the number of gun deaths this year is already an astounding 8,512. Miami is one of the most dangerous cities in America. On average, one child is shot every 17 hours — firearms are second only to cancer in killing youths in Florida.

It may get worse. The Trump administration is calling for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education next year, including slashing after-school programs, guidance counselors, social workers, and many other positive influences. “Overtown and Wynwood’s in-school music programs have been dealing with budget cuts, with in-school music teachers just straight-up quitting," Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez started Young Musicians United in 2013 with a 12-student guitar ensemble at the Young Men’s Preparatory Academy in Wynwood. This coming 2017-18 school year, the program will serve more than 140 students through eight programs, including jazz, rock, and guitar ensembles.

Gonzalez knows programs like this can make a monumental difference in a kid’s life. He had a high school music teacher named Clark Doug Burris who "showed all of us the true art of leadership and was a living example of doing what you love. Music has consistently consumed me and I’m proud to be a full-time musician and mentor.”
Jorge Martinez Photography
From July 24 to 29 at Miami Beach Senior High, YMU is offering 30 students an opportunity to participate in a free classical guitar summer camp. Led by teachers such as Rafael Padron (University of Miami), Federico Musgrove (president of the Florida Guitar Foundation), and with guest performance by Marco Sartor (New World School of the Arts) and others, the program aims at "inspiring and motivating these students, and letting them know that there’s a guitar community and career path in this field."

In 2018, YMU will host three different weeklong camps, including classical guitar, rock ensemble, and jazz. The mentors on their roster also include Alan Valladares, who is currently working on his master's at the University of Miami, and leader of rock ensembles Juan Peláez, who plays in the Spanish band Atajos. Also recently added is Jean Case, a trumpet player who won the 2006 International Trumpet Guild Jazz Competition and has recorded and performed with artists such as Herbie Hancock and Michael Bublé.

Applicants must submit a video or audio recording to [email protected]. This year's camp will be led by Padron, who currently chairs the guitar program at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. The week will include master classes, private lessons, lectures, guest performances, and a free public performance on the last day, July 29, at 6:30 pm. “This is something that I support greatly and want to be part of,” Padron says. “The students will have an opportunity to ask us any questions and learn more about our community and even college if they ask.”

Seventeen-year-old Marcelo Araujo-Cox looks forward to the coming camp because “all my other gigs affiliated with Young Musicians Unite were such great experiences... I'm just excited to play guitar all day, perform, and learn everything I can.”

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