Boulder MUSE is a free after-school music program for children whose families may not be able to pay for private music lessons. MUSE is a safe and nurturing community of students, teachers, volunteers and parents dedicated to giving young people the optimal musical environment in which to thrive, and the right community to do it in. Having the opportunity for self discovery through music is the birthright of all children, regardless of the financial circumstances of their families.
MUSE was inspired by El Sistema, a music education and human development program that has benefited the children of Venezuela since 1975. Programs modeled after El Sistema have been developed all over the world. Founders Elisa Snyder and Mari Madeira developed MUSE through learning about El Sistema and observing several El Sistema programs throughout the country.
Comprehensive music education can be a vehicle for social change, where, through the rigors and joys of making music in a supportive community, young people grow into self assured and competent contributors, interested in using their leadership skills for the good of their families and communities. Music can inspire emotions and strengthen minds. It enlivens the whole child, body, spirit and mind.
Music education and its positive effects on brain development is well documented. Dr. Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory discovered “tremendous development in the areas of the brain responsible for sound processing and verbal abilities” in her study of students at the Harmony Project, an El Sistema-inspired program in Los Angeles
(Frontiers in Psychology, December 16, 2014).
Children growing up in under-resourced circumstances begin kindergarten already behind their more fortunate peers. Being engaged in language from infancy on, being read to and even being around print in the home, all contribute greatly to a child’s facility in developing literacy. Growing up speaking a language other than English may create roadblocks to English literacy and academics in general. Parents of these children may not speak English, and even if they do, they may not have the ability nor the time to help their children with grade-level homework. Boulder County has a large Spanish-speaking population.
Boulder, Colorado is thought to be a relatively affluent community, but in truth, Boulder, and surrounding Boulder County, is home to a large population of families who find it hard to meet the demands of the cost of living. Boulder County houses Boulder Valley School District and the St. Vrain Valley School District, where the student population, PK - 12, is just under 62,000 students, according to a 2014 count by the Colorado Department of Education. The K-8 population of these two districts combined is 39,450, of which over 35% are on the free or reduced lunch program. After careful review, it becomes obvious that a large percentage of Boulder youth cannot possibly afford to study music beyond that which is offered in their schools. At a time when budget cuts in public education have targeted the arts, underprivileged children are impacted the most since their parents are not able to provide them with the music lessons their more affluent peers enjoy. The founders of Boulder MUSE are making a dent in this disparity, one school at a time.