When Rick Aggeler graduated from the famed Berklee College of Music in 2007, he had two career options: professional drummer or music teacher. He chose music teacher - with a mission.
Aggeler, 25, discovered early on in life that music is magic.
"Music made me feel like anything was possible," he says.
Aggeler was seven when he had brain surgery, which left him with an embarrassing scar on the back of his head. Worse, his medical condition prevented him from playing sports. So his mother suggested he learn to play the drums.
"I started playing drums with Ronit Glick. She was my elementary teacher," he recalls. "I remember just the joy it brought to me. It was my favorite thing. Sixth-grade was a new school to me and I had a tough time getting along with all the kids. Ms. Glick just took me in and I had so much fun at the program. I ate up anything she gave to me. It just felt great all the time."
Years later, the love of music took Aggeler from northern California - where he grew up - to Boston to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. While a junior at Berklee, he volunteered as a music teacher at a local youth center. In a way, he never left.
Aggeler helped create a small music club within the youth center. Later, serving as its director, he oversaw its rapid growth into a major program. The Music Clubhouse at the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester, Massachusetts, now offers local kids a chance to learn how to play not just drums, but a wide range of other instruments as well.
"Just watching the energy of the kids and working with them, they were so excited to learn and play, that's what caught my attention," he says. "It all tied back to what Ms. Glick did for me. So, as much fun as I do have drumming and performing live, it's definitely more rewarding and more fun, watching these kids grow up and develop."
The music clubhouse, Aggeler says, has become a haven for local kids who can come after school hours or during summer vacation. They learn to play instruments, perform together in bands and even record their own songs in the club's studio.
Super Hero is one of the songs from the club's second album, Because of You.
"It was cool, because I got a chance to be in a studio and see what it was like to record a song," says fourteen-year-old Javon Martin, who goes by the stage name Young Fresh. Fresh joined the music clubhouse three years ago.
"It has impacted my life in a big way because I never thought I'd be doing this," he says."We now give shows. Everyone wants to interview us. I'm on the radio. I'm doing shows on different stages. People are actually starting to see me as an artist. People are always coming to me saying, 'Don't forget me, when you make it big.'"
Akheylah Hunter, 10, didn't play an instrument when she became a club member last year. Now, she plays piano and sings with the band. What she likes best, she says, is performing.
"We performed in different places like at Berklee College of Music," she says. "We go on trips, like we went to the House of Blues and we went on stage and performed, and it was very fun."
Helping the community
Since the Music Clubhouse opened three years ago, it's served almost 500 kids. Aggeler says performing in front of different audiences helps the young musicians build self esteem. Coming to the club to prepare for those performances helps them learn how to deal with their personal problems and concerns.
"I can see what it does for them and it just develops confidence," he explains. "It's also an escape [from] the big problems we have in the neighborhood- obviously gangs, family dynamics. We have a lot of challenges. So whether they feel embarrassed about a zit on their face, or they feel embarrassed because they're not as tall as somebody or whatever, something about what's happening at home, we can have those conversations and they can write, too. They can rap about it and kind of let it out a little bit."
To expand the club and help more kids learn music, Aggeler sought the support of the community. Creating partnerships with the Berklee College of Music and local music stores, he says, has helped the club receive free instruments, recording equipment, computers and software.
The Music Clubhouse at The Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club has also gotten support from the Music and Youth Initiative, a nonprofit that develops after school music education programs in underserved communities in Massachusetts.
"I do think it's important that we continue to get private corporate and foundation investments in programs like this, not just here but all across the country, so we don't leave behind the children who may really benefit from this kind of a program and may not benefit as much from purely academic programs," says Gary Eichhorn, executive director of the Music and Youth Initiative. "We need to level the play field somewhat by providing kids who may not have the means to get private music lessons the opportunity to still learn music and get all the benefits that music education brings."
Aggeler is happy - but not surprised - to see music touch and transform the lives of his club members. It's the same magical power he experienced as a child, that inspired him to become a teacher - and to pass it on.