Accessibility links

California's Rainbow Academy Brings Music to Inner-City Children

A volunteer program in Los Angeles is bringing music skills to youngsters in the inner city. the Rainbow Music Academy offers instruction in violin and other instruments in a multicultural setting.

The academy was the brainchild of violinist and music professor Chan Ho Yun. By day, he teaches at the prestigious Colburn School of Performing Arts.

At night, the Korean-American musician travels to the Crenshaw district of south Los Angeles, where he directs the free music program for 60 youngsters.

"Our program is a multicultural mix," Professor Yun says. "We have about 60 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic, and about 10 percent Asian. We embrace everyone, anyone and everyone who wants music instruction but can't really afford it. And that's our mission, to teach music."

The instruction covers trumpet, double bass, cello, violin and viola.

The students are eager to learn.

"My name is Anbya Smith and I am eight years old," she says. "I play the violin. I've been playing for about two or three years."

Sydni Kynard, also eight, has been learning the violin for three years now. "I just really like it, and it's actually kind of fun to play it," she says.

Minkah Smith, 11, has been playing for five years, and says, sometimes, she prefers violin practice to watching TV or playing.

"It's classical music and it calms you down. And sometimes when I have nothing to do, I go and practice my violin for about two hours," he says.

Earl Williams, a violinist who is 10, has also come to love classical music. "I enjoy it because it's peaceful," he says.

The program has three part-time teachers, who are being paid out of a $20,000 grant from the financial firm Bear Stearns. An earlier grant from the California Music Teachers Association was used to buy instruments.

A handful of volunteers help out with the program.

Sixteen-year-old assistant teacher Francis Suh says he was lucky. His parents were able to buy him a violin and pay for his lessons. Now he's helping students whose parents cannot pay.

"I've been playing the violin since I was five, and I thought maybe I could pass along what I've learned from my violin teachers," he says.

Manny Castaneda teaches trumpet at the Rainbow Academy and hopes to start a similar program in his own neighborhood, the inner-city community of Compton.

"It's the same thing," he says. "We don't have enough music, and I figured if I could help kids get involved in music, maybe they'll have something to care for and not go off into all the other bad things associated with inner cities."

He says those inner-city problems include crime and gang violence.

There are other pressing issues facing these students and teachers. Behind the building where the music lessons are given, academy director Chan Ho Yun points to a pile of rubble at a construction site.

"We have a big problem coming up. As part of the redevelopment project, this building that we're using rent-free is going to be demolished. And the future is a big question mark," Professor Yun says.

So the musician is busy knocking on doors, looking for free space from a business or charitable organization, or for sponsors who can help him rent a space.

Chan Ho Yun says music instruction has value at many levels. It teaches students concentration and increases their confidence. He says making music also teaches harmony, and helps to bring together this diverse community.