‘They are always here for you:’ ROCMusic provides music, education for life

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — ROCMusic is a program that provides free music education up to six hours a week, and instruments — ranging from orchestral to percussion — to students in Rochester. It is a partnership between the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hochstein School, the Rochester City School District and more.

If you want to sign up or know someone who does, you can visit their website here.

The program is getting ready to start another year, with a new executive and artistic director, Rachel Mills. Mills has been with ROCMusic for three years, serving as a cello instructor. She discovered her passion for work while away from her native Rochester home.

“I was able to go on some trips to Latin America and teacher programs there and I just saw how eager and excited the students are to learn music,” she said. “And these are students who usually don’t have the opportunity to do that. So I wanted to know if there were students in my community who fell into the same category.”

Mills says — as would many other music educators — that the skills students learn in the program don’t just stay in the music room.

“This musical instrument of learning in general just teaches a wide range of skills that apply to other areas of your life,” she said. “So our students are learning discipline, they’re learning persistence, like learning new skill sets. They are learning responsibility, making sure they can take care of an instrument. And they’re learning to communicate with others, and also to give back to the community and the shows.”

This week, she’s working with a string quintet for an upcoming performance at the Summer Soul Music Festival in Rochester. Students are working on classics, and new to rock classics. This group has been playing together for several years, and like others, they have had a chance to make lifelong friends.

“You make a lot of friends… I remember when I first started, (I had) a friend named Alex, and we’re still friends to this day,” said a violinist in the band Sergio Navedo, who has been in ROCMusic since the first grade. He currently attends Rochester Prep.

So much of their lives have changed, if this cross-section of five students is to be believed. One of those students, Isaiah Johnakin, who is in love with the sound of his violin, has new kinds of music and new skills.

“When I started I couldn’t really read music, it wasn’t very good, and now I’m here playing, in bands and stuff, doing gigs, it’s really nice and fulfilling,” he said.

“Music is my heart, it’s my life,” added cellist Jeremias Jackson, who like Johnakin, is currently homeschooled. But his musical skills were not the only thing to strengthen. “Right now I’m going through dyslexia as a kid, getting bullied at school and that’s why my mom pulled me out of school.

“So I really like this program because it helps me push through and push me to the limit,” Jackson said.

Mentoring is another key part of the program, from student to student. Some, like Maria Moran, have been there since they were children. Others, like Eastman School of Music student Douglas Rodriguez, came back just to help.

“When we’re all together, you can see the older kids because they’ve been here so long, they’re so engaged, it helps the younger kids, it moves them,” Moran said. She attends the School of Arts.

“When I came here, I really feel like I have a second family,” said Rodriguez, a former SoTA student. “They are always there for you.”

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