Lake Norman & Mooresville

Music program gets kids attuned to succeed

Volunteers at the after-school MusicalMinds program help underserved children learn music, along with a variety of social skills and character development. Many of the volunteers are retired educators and principals.
Volunteers at the after-school MusicalMinds program help underserved children learn music, along with a variety of social skills and character development. Many of the volunteers are retired educators and principals. COURTESY OF MUSICALMINDS

Wendy Glenn, mother of former Blythe Elementary School student Nadia Glenn, 11, remembers playing Mozart for Nadia in utero.

Now, Nadia is a role model who has passed through the school’s MusicalMinds program. This year, she will be attending Northwest School of the Arts as a violinist after receiving instruction in the instrument since 2012 in the program and auditioning for the arts school.

Nadia is one of many students with much potential who may have never been able to try something like violin without MusicalMinds.

“We’re really proud of Nadia. She has become our role model student in the program,” said MusicalMinds Executive Director Holly Cummings.

Nadia’s mother commented on how grateful she was for the program, as providing music lessons for her child was a dream that may not have been possible in her budget.

MusicalMinds, a nonprofit that seeks to create social transformation by providing an after-school classical-music education program for underserved children, started in 2012 after members of the Lake Norman Kiwanis Club saw a “60 Minutes” segment about a musical program in Venezuela called El Sistema.

In its 40 years, El Sistema has served 800,000 children in Venezuela. For the past 10 years, El Sistema-inspired programs have been popping up across the U.S.

The Inter-American Bank found that every dollar invested in El Sistema yielded $1.68 in societal benefits because of the life lessons participating children learn through music education and playing cooperatively as a group, according to MusicalMinds literature.

The program, which meets from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, also keeps children in a safe, supervised environment. The program is all volunteer-taught. Many volunteers are retired educators and principals, said Cummings.

MusicalMinds currently can serve 30 students at Blythe Elementary and hopes to increase that number to 40 this year. The program also has a goal of serving 250 students within five years by expanding to three more elementary schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district. Blythe will serve as the north Mecklenburg school; MusicalMinds is currently seeking three other schools to start duplicate programs in south, east and west Mecklenburg. Eventually, expansion will continue to middle and high schools.

The children in MusicalMinds are nominated by school staff for a large variety of reasons, from living in a single-parent household or having a parent pass away to being an academically bright student who is getting into a lot of trouble.

“The true essence of our program is to change the trajectory of a child’s life.… And how do we do that?” said Cummings.

“Social skills, self respect, helping others when they’re not doing as well as we are.… In music, if you don’t sound good, no one sounds good.”

Cummings highlighted how children learn leadership skills because students ages 6 through 12 all learn and play music together, and the older or more talented students sometimes teach those who are newer or need extra help. The student-teachers learn confidence in sharing skills and the students who receive their help learn “to trust and know that someone wants to help them,” said Cummings.

“People think it’s all about music, but it’s not. It’s also about community.”

The young musicians also find support and confidence during their many performances. Last school year, the group performed 11 times. One performance, at UNCCharlotte, was the first time many of the students had ever been on a college campus. Afterward, some students decided they wanted to attend college despite the fact that no one in their families ever had, said Cummings.

MusicalMinds is scheduled to begin performances for the current school year in November.

Each student in the program starts on violin. They also sing, and learn rhythm through things like bucket drumming.

Nadia recalls how nervous she was before her first performance– bucket drumming at Christmas in Davidson. Now, she feels much more confident performing, she said. She even played a solo at a MusicalMinds performance at Music on the Green in Davidson.

“My daughter has leadership skills now,” said Nadia’s mother, Wendy. “I know my daughter has a mind where she’s not going to be a follower as she goes to middle school.”

What does Nadia want to be when she grows up?

“I want to be president,” she said.

Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer:

Learn more

For volunteering, donating or other information abvout MusicalMinds, visit, email or visit MusicalMindsNC on Facebook.