On a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, seven to 10 Chaney High School students will file into a newly renovated piano lab with 10 brand new Yamaha pianos. For 50 minutes, they will learn the fundamentals of piano theory and popular songs that some may have never thought they would ever be able to play, all thanks to an idea Cicilia Yudha, a Youngstown State University piano professor, dreamt up almost two years ago.
When Yudha started teaching at YSU’s Dana School of Music in fall 2012, she wanted to reach out to the Youngstown community in any way she could. With the help of Bryan DePoy, dean of the College of Creative Arts and Communication, the two brainstormed the idea of taking her musical ability to Chaney High School, where she would develop a free, after-school piano program for students interested in the arts.
Yudha said that she felt like starting the program was part of her service to the university and the area.
“I wanted to do something that would contribute to the betterment of the community,” Yudha said. “I told Dean DePoy that teaching privately is great, but it can only help individuals, and the ripple effect will take more time.”
DePoy said when he met with Yudha, he kept in mind the Creative Start initiative the college has been working on. The program gives community outreach to local schools and helps students prepare for college.
“In the College of Creative Arts and Communication, even though our primary focus is on academic programs, much of what we do — especially in arts discipline — is to engage the community around us,” DePoy said. “We like to partner with [visual and performing arts schools] in our initiative, and Chaney was recently named one less than five years ago.”
DePoy said that Chaney was a perfect fit because of their visual and performing arts title, and Tracy Schuler-Vivo, an alumna from the Dana School of Music, was recently named the VPA coordinator for Chaney High School.
Schuler-Vivo said she was very excited when she found out about the collaborative initiative between Chaney and the Dana School of Music.
“I think it’s really an amazing thing,” Schuler-Vivo said. “This is also a great opportunity to get the Dana School of Music’s name out there and hopefully recruit some new musicians. One student from last year actually decided to apply to YSU and got in to the Dana School of Music because of the after-school piano program.”
Yudha said that when DePoy suggested Chaney High School in Youngstown, she met with the school not long after their conversation.
“He said that they had a piano lab as well. The pianos were also ones that [the Dana School of Music] have used in the past and donated to the high school,” she said. “When I visited the school they were all in very poor conditions. There were maybe 12-15 pianos but keys were sticking, pedals were stuck and they were all very out of tune.”
After finalizing the details in the fall, the after-school piano project at Chaney was up and running in January 2013 under the supervision of Yudha, music composition and theory professor Haley Reale and Schuler-Vivo. The class met on Wednesday afternoons for 50 minutes with attendance slowly growing each week.
Yudha said that although the program was a little rough at the start, it progressed into a great success toward the end of spring 2013.
“There were about an average of seven students, and even though they came in blindsided, they still accomplished a lot toward the end of spring,” Yudha said. “In May, many were tackling note reading and things were starting to make connections for them regarding improvisation and recognizing popular songs.”
At the end of spring 2013, plans for the 2013-2014 school year began to unfold when Yudha started looking into the Yamaha music system catalogue to get a quote from Classics Piano in Cleveland for 10 new pianos to add to the lab.
“I started to think, ‘How can we make the teaching environment better?’” she said. “I got a quote from classics and Tracy [Schuler-Vivo] took it to the superintendent for the Youngstown City Schools and just like that we had a brand new piano lab with 10 pianos.”
This school year, the program has grown into having a music theory class during the school day twice a week. The after-school piano program is still running under the supervision of Reale two days a week.
Yudha said she is proud about how far the program has come over the past two semesters and hopes to reach out to other Youngstown City Schools in the near future.
“It’s always the click of the light bulb like, ‘Oh, this is it?’ when the students play and it can’t help but bring a smile to my face,” Yudha said. “With a sustained two to three years of training of classic piano in high school, my hope is that when these students graduate and choose a music degree, they can enter the degree program with a solid background in theory/note-reading.”
DePoy also said he is very proud of the program and sees great things on the horizon for the community outreach initiative.
“I really commend Dr. Yudha by taking the recommendation to interface with our [Youngstown] city schools,” DePoy said. “It takes a lot of effort and energy to do something such as this, and I am hopeful her work can be held up as a model for how faculty can collaborate with the schools that surround us. The fact it is continuing collaboration signals the success and a very positive future for this kind of collaboration.”