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The Hope of Music Education

Five children sit in a classroom practicing a variety of brass instruments.
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Newport News students practice playing brass instruments. It’s part of a free program provided by non-profit Soundscapes.

Newport News based non-profit Soundscapes is teaching young students how to play musical instruments.

Executive Director Carol Minter says music education is an important part of childhood development, and the free lessons they provide help impart important life skills.


KEYRIS MANZANARES: Music has the power to change lives. And one Virginia nonprofit is hoping to do just that by exposing young people to music. Joining us is Carol Minter, Executive Director of Soundscapes an education program based in Newport News. Thank you for being here with us, Carol. Can you tell us about soundscapes? 

CAROL MINTER: Soundscapes is a youth development organization that uses music as our tool to develop critical life skills and young people in our community. And our target audience is students from early childhood all the way up through adulthood. And we do that through three types of programs.

We have daily after-school music programs for students, where we work with students for two hours every day after school. We have the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, where we work with more intermediate and advanced student musicians. And we have three summer camps, where we work with students over the summer as well.

Where did the idea for Soundscapes originate from?

Our co-founders Ann Henry and Ray Ramirez were the ones who started it back in 2009. And their idea was to start a music program that would give students something positive to do, particularly in those after school hours.

It's really based on a program out of South America called El Sistema. And the whole idea was to bring about social change through music, and that's exactly what we're trying to do with Soundscapes.

Can you tell us why your organization believes that music education is so important? 

Music is really the ideal vehicle to bring about important life skills for young people. It's something that young people are able to connect with. People just naturally love music, they feel comfortable with music, they listen to music, for fun. And so by introducing these life skills, through something that students already naturally enjoy, it's really just the perfect tool to work on these kinds of skills that our young people need both to succeed in school and to succeed as engaged citizens well beyond that. We find that ensemble learning, in particular, helps students to learn to listen to one another, to learn to be patient, because you know, learning an instrument, it's not easy.

Students, while they're learning music, they're going to fail, they're going to come upon a challenge. And they're going to have to keep trying, and that perseverance is a really critical skill for them. And so we just find that music education, not only is the ideal tool for these kinds of life skills, it also develops creativity, and it helps with social and emotional well-being as well.

During your work with Soundscapes, has there been a specific story that has really jumped out at you? Maybe a child who really was able to take advantage, you know, of learning to play a new instrument and really using that to their advantage.

It's hard to pick just one. We've, at this point since 2009, we've provided music education for over 1,500 students. So, to narrow it down is difficult. But there is one student in particular whose story really continues to inspire me. He's a student that was part of our first class at the very, very beginning, he started as a first grader with an upside-down bucket learning rhythm and continued with us through the entire program. And through that time, his family went through some very difficult times and Soundscapes really was not just a source of music education, but also a source of community and support for him.

And as time went on, he really came to love his instrument and decided that that was something that he wanted to pursue beyond high school. And in fact, he was able to get a full scholarship to college to pursue music education. So that's just one of many stories but one that certainly stands out to us.

What is next for soundscapes, where does the organization see themselves in five or 10 years?

Sure, that's a great question. And I appreciate you asking. So the heart of our program is our daily after school music program. Our daily after school music program takes place right now at two elementary schools in Newport News.

And for that program, we bring professional musicians who have training and a passion for working with young people in and they spend two hours every day with students working on from very beginner beginning stages of learning music all the way up to learning an instrument for the first time up to an ensemble. And the students are able to learn a lot and progress very quickly because they spend 10 hours a week with us, we really become a community for them. And because we've had such a wonderful experience with the students in our program, and such good outcomes, the community wants to see more of soundscapes, we've been getting that message and we've been exploring how to grow and in fact had an opportunity to do a feasibility study last year to figure out what's the best way to bring more soundscapes to the community and allow more students to participate. And what we have discovered is that the best path forward for us is to develop a soundscapes hub. So a building where rather than just being located in certain specific schools, we can bring students from across the community to our Soundscapes music education hub, so that we'll be able to open our doors to many more students and students from across the Virginia Peninsula to begin with. And we're really excited. We're still a year or two out from that. But we're making strides toward that growth right now and can't wait to open our door to even more students.

If there's someone in the community now that wants to you know, hear some of the music from the people participating in Soundscapes or just wants to know more information. How can they do that?

Well, I certainly point them to our website We also have a wonderful YouTube channel, which is And and that's a great opportunity to see some of our students, but I also encourage them to come see our students live and in person. We do frequent performances and because the mission of our organization is all about making music and music learning accessible, our concerts are free. And so, the Peninsula Youth Orchestra performs at the American Theatre in Hampton. And all of our students are going to be participating in the Virginia Community Music Festival, which is going to be in April at the Ferguson Center at Christopher Newport University. So, I don't have the dates for that memorized. But I would encourage folks to go to all of our concert dates are there on the website, and we love to have folks from the community out to support our students.

Thank you for joining us, Carol.

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.


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