Enriching Lives Through Music
Promotional photo for Enriching Lives Through Music’s winter concert

Enriching Lives Through Music (ELM) is a San Rafael-based nonprofit offering a “tuition-free intensive instrumental and ensemble music program” for 7–18-year-olds. The vision is to engage children with fewer resources for music education. One hundred fifty students in the predominantly Latino Canal district in San Rafael receive 10 hours of intensive music instruction a week during the school year, and academic tutoring is available as well. ELM also supports three orchestras and runs a four-week summer camp.

Of course, there are some students who excel in this environment, and in seeking a way to keep those students moving forward, the organization came up with the Community of Artists, Teachers, and Scholars. Exceptionally motivated students receive, according to the website, “private lessons, chamber music, access to music festivals and summer camps, upgraded instruments, and mentoring, outreach community performances, and community service opportunities.” The program hosts guest artists, like Milad Yousufi, an Afghan musician based in New York, who shared folk songs and his unusual creative process, “which involves using artwork that he creates to inspire his compositions.”

In an extension of that multicultural approach, ELM came up with Reflections on Resilience, a project that uses the musical experiences and memories of the young musicians and their families to weave together a musical work that will be the centerpiece of the group’s Dec. 11 concert at the Showcase Theater in San Rafael. The students are working with composer Giancarlo Castro D’Addona, who came out of El Sistema in Venezuela and cut his teeth with compositions for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. He’s now the conductor of the Reed College orchestra in Portland, Ore.

“We have named it The Mix of the Culturas to represent the blending of traditional orchestral movements with Latin-infused rhythms,” says Castro. The piece is the tangible thing for the students to take home, but arguably more important is the enriching cultural knowledge the students gain from interviewing their parents and relatives and learning about context and history. And if we’re talking about immigrant communities, music is naturally a powerful way to evoke a cultural heritage that is now mixed with other elements.

“Resilience, in this context, represents the strength of music to cross time and place,” says Executive Director Jane Kramer.

There is no end point here, though: ELM plans to continue this project with younger students in the program, who will write their own musical biographies in an ever-renewing cycle.