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High school students host music lessons, no strings attached


AURORA, Colo. — Libraries tend to be fairly quiet, informational spaces. On an ordinary day, as pages turn and keys clack, visitors speak in low voices. 

However, on Wednesdays at 4 p.m., the sound of music echoes throughout the Tallyn’s Reach Library.

Librarian Julie Stevens started Between the Notes, a student-volunteer program that teaches kids how to play string instruments such as the violin, viola and cello, in 2015. The program is free and open to elementary and middle school students.

“It was [Steven’s] brainchild to think about how to connect students who know a musical instrument with those who are interested in learning a musical instrument,” said Ginger White Brunetti, the director for Aurora Library and Cultural Services Department.

The program partners with Cherokee Trail High School, where seven of its student volunteers attend. The students who volunteer are either involved in music classes or orchestra, so they have prior knowledge and experience in order to teach the younger kids.

“I discovered a love for music from a young age, around sixth grade,” said junior Ingrid Zapata, the lead student-volunteer for the program. 

“Since then, I started playing the violin. I wanted to help other kids find that love as well, just like how I did.”

Zapata started teaching music in the program at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. This year, she transitioned to a leadership role when the students who led the program last year graduated.

The high school students advertise the program through the library’s newsletters and by talking to music teachers at local elementary and middle schools. Parents can bring their kids to the program on the day of lessons. 

The program doesn’t provide instruments, but hosts one-hour lessons with its volunteers for kids in elementary and middle school.

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With Between the Notes, the students learn to play their instruments and read music.

Photo: Peter Vo, Rocky Mountain PBS

Emir Santana heard about the program through the library and brought his son, Emerson Santana, in for lessons over the 2023-2024 school year. 

“I was teaching chess here at the Tallyn’s Reach Library when I found out about Between the Notes. I bought him [Emerson] a cello and he’s been playing that since,” said Emir Santana. 

At the lessons the kids pair up with high school students — sometimes in groups, sometimes one on one — and the lessons begin.

“The volunteer teachers coordinate based on their own discretion and based on what they think their student needs and based on their own knowledge,” said Zapata. 

On the day that Rocky Mountain PBS visited, two students focused on music theory while another was learning how to play Taylor Swift’s, “Shake it Off” on the cello. 

The student volunteers get together throughout the year multiple times — even during winter and summer breaks — to fit everyone’s expertise with the students who come in. 

“They help me with my music, I love my teachers,” said Emerson Santana.

Zapata said that students come in at all different levels and that it’s important to meet them where they are or find them the resources that can support them. 

“You get to see them grow from an outsider's perspective, but they also are teaching you in a way that you haven't realized,” Zapata said. “They are noticing things that you hadn't really thought of for them.”

At the library, the students are surrounded by peers with different levels of music being played. This informal environment is appealing to many kids, Brunetti said. 

For the student volunteers, the program also provides them with an opportunity to flex their teaching skills and support kids. 

The music lessons at Tallyn’s Reach Library are free because the costs can quickly add up for parents. On average, a one-hour session can cost anywhere from $64-$90. 

“What really is exciting about this program is that it was inspired by a librarian who saw a need in the community and an opportunity to partner, which is what is so great about our librarians is that they have their eyes and their ears to the ground and are always thinking about creative and innovative ways to engage,” Brunetti said. 

As students progress through the lessons, they perform in two recitals, one in the winter and one in the spring. This last spring, 11 kids performed in the recital held at the library, each playing songs that they’ve been practicing with the student volunteers. 

“It makes me feel amazing and happy because I get to perform in front of everybody and I love performing,” said Emerson Santana whose favorite songs are from the Minecraft soundtrack. 

Afterwards, the kids celebrate with a party.

“It amazes me when they finally get there because their hard work finally paid off, and I think they would feel the same,” Zapata said. 

Peter Vo is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.

Over a million Coloradans turn to Rocky Mountain PBS to discover provocative and inspiring local, national and international programming; find diverse viewpoints; score front row center seats to world-class performances; and experience lifelong learning opportunities every month.

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