Keyboard Festival Highlights Expanding Musical Opportunities at Democracy Prep

On Wednesday, June 19, 50 scholars will take to the stage at Harlem Prep Elementary to show off their skills in a keyboard festival extravaganza. The event will feature solo and ensemble keyboard performances, and there will be a special collaboration with the Newark-based piano group “Keys 2 Success.” The organization Keys 2 Success runs a keyboard musical education program for young students, and six of their scholars will travel from Newark to Harlem for the Keyboard Festival.

The festival will feature a wide range of song genres and skill levels.

“We are really trying to push the limit of all the things that are possible on the keyboard,” said Harlem Prep Elementary music teacher Kristine Peters. “We’re going to hear soloists playing pop tunes and classical works, pedagogical pieces that are on the road toward more advanced classes, and the youngest performers from Keys 2 Success will play the classical work Finlandia by Antonín Dvořák. Our oldest scholars will play upbeat pop-tunes like Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder.”

The festival will also feature a performance by Harlem Prep Elementary’s very own Kristine Peters, who directs the Harlem Prep Elementary Piano Band.

“This event is a great way for kids to see who their teachers are as artists and musicians,” said Democracy Prep Arts Education Director Brian Duran. “How did they get to where they are? How did they get to be a teacher in the classroom and what was their musical journey like? To see that concretely with this solo from Ms. Peters will be awesome.”

Brian Duran and Kristine Peters are prioritizing the expansion of musical education at Democracy Prep so that scholars have many opportunities through their school years to practice music. One of the ways music education has grown at Democracy Prep is the beginning of the DPNYC Music Academy this year. Students have the opportunity to receive keyboard instruction two weeknights and during the day on Saturday.

“I thought that there needed to be some kind of space after school and on the weekends
where kids come for more time and it would be open to all New York City Democracy Prep [scholars],” said Brian. “With instrumental music especially, you have to start really young, build skills on an instrument, and have many at-bats through the school day and an after-school program to empower more advanced artistry in the upper grades.”

This intensive music training empowers scholars to know earlier on in their career if they want to pursue music professionally or recreationally.

“The goal is to build some basic fluency with musical language on the keyboard so scholars can then have the opportunity to apply it however they want to a variety of personal aspirations and creative outlets: advanced training on the instrument, songwriting and producing, accompanying singers, or casual collaboration with friends.”

Brian and Kristine have seen tremendous growth in their students– musically, emotionally, and socially.

A Harlem Prep Middle scholar named Abigail has done so much work on her own at home that she is performing lead parts in Music Academy songs and will play Beethoven’s iconic work Für Elise at the festival.

A sixth grade HPM scholar named Kevin has gained confidence through multiple performances both in theater and as a keyboardist. He was the lead in his school’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and he will be playing and singing Elton John’s Your Song at the festival.

“This is where the team element comes in,” said Brian. “Mr. Price at HPM is working with the theatrical elements of getting Kevin’s voice to project on stage as a singer, and that’s happening in conjunction with these [keyboard] projects that I’m feeding him.” He added, “In rehearsal, you see him talking more, and as that confidence builds through those performances, you see him come out of his shell a little bit more.”

The benefits of the DP musical education program have the potential to affect more than our scholars. Brian hopes that this event invites others to explore Democracy Prep and learn about the unique structures at the organization that allow for this type of musical education to take place. You can join the fun and come see our scholars perform at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, June 19 in the theater at Taino Towers (240 E 123rd St, New York, NY).

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