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Rogers Foundation, Philharmonic program gives free violin lessons at Boys & Girls Clubs

In a room tucked high above the basketball courts at the Lied Memorial Boys & Girls Club, about a dozen students gather for an hour every week to master the arts — not athletics — and play with bows — not balls — as Tianna Harjo introduces them to the violin.

The program, also offered at the Mary and Sam Boyd Clubhouse, 1608 Moser Drive, and the Andre Agassi Clubhouse, 800 N. Martin Luther King Blvd., is a partnership between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Last summer, The Rogers Foundation presented the program with a grant for $91,804 to purchase tablet computers with music composition software and violins to help launch the free lessons at the three clubhouses.

On March 1, board chairman Beverly Rogers and grant and scholarship director Michelle Sanders came to the Lied Club, 2850 Lindell Road, to see the foundation’s funds in action. Also visiting were Amy Wiles, vice president of development for the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and Philharmonic representative Michele Madole.

Harjo introduced her students to the foundation representatives and encouraged them to give a hearty thank you to their benefactors.

“The Rogers Foundation is the reason we’re all here,” Harjo said. “They’re the ones that helped us acquire the instruments and everything for you guys to learn the violin.”

Andy Bischel, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada president and CEO, said students applied for the program and were selected based on interest. Wiles said there are about 70 participants spread among the three clubs.

“They had an open house and an open enrollment period, and kids were able to sign up, and the parents were able to come and ask questions,” she said. “I think they got started probably in October. So five months into it, they’re sounding pretty good.”

Most of the students at Lied had no music background when they started. Harjo has them reading music, playing scales and mastering simple songs.

She started the March 1 class teaching the Every Good Boy Does Fine and F-A-C-E notation skills using Jeanette Young’s Taylor Swift parody “I knew You Were Treble When You Walked In.”

The children sang along, emphasizing the line, “And the greatest thing comes clear to me that your notes can be played by me, or anyone or anything, Yeah!”

Augustine Torres, 8, waved his pencil in the air along to the tune.

“Do you think you want to conduct?” Rogers asked him later.

“Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a conductor,” Augustine said as he proceeded to lead the visiting benefactors in song.

Harjo’s lesson also included bow exercises to increase finger strength, flexibility and dexterity. Starting with the bows high in the air, students were encouraged to lower them swiftly by walking their fingers down the bow.

“Are you going to beat me?” the instructor asked. “I have a disadvantage. My bow is longer.”

After several tries, most appeared to be tired.

“I never said playing the violin was easy. I said it was worthwhile,” Harjo reminded them.

As the students sat down to play, each practiced independently with Harjo moving among them to give each individual attention.

“I can’t imagine what she must go through,” Rogers said. “And it’s really neat to watch them, how much they have picked up.”

Harjo, a substitute viola player for the philharmonic, is finishing up her Ph.D. as she works with students at the three clubhouses. She said her biggest challenge has been working with kids who can’t always be in class.

“This club is harder than most because some of the faces here today haven’t been here in two or three, sometimes four, weeks,” she said.

She added that it’s hard to balance the needs of younger and older students.

“The other clubs are more fourth and fifth grade,” she said. “This club, we have a few older ones and then the little ones. It’s been a little bit of a challenge to find the balance, but I think we do OK.”

“You’re a saint,” Sanders said.

Rogers applauded the teacher and young musicians’ efforts and said she was impressed.

“I’m telling you, I couldn’t even do that — make any sound that sounded reasonably nice,” she said.

In addition to the music education grant, other 2015 Rogers Foundation school and educator grant recipients included Park Elementary School, which used its $100,000 grant to purchase iPads as a learning literacy tool for students in grades two through five, and Coral Academy of Science, which used its $100,000 to bring in tutors and offer before, after-school and weekend math programs.

The Rogers Foundation plans to award three more grants for 2016. The deadline to apply is March 25. Last year, the foundation received 109 applications, which were evaluated through UNLV’s Grantwell Program.

Visit therogers.foundation.

Contact View contributing reporter Ginger Meurer at gmeurer@viewnews.com. Find her on Twitter: @gingermmm.

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