Copyright 2014-2016 St. Louis Association of Community Organizations. All rights reserved.

St. Louis Association of Community Organizations

This activity is financed in part through an allocation of Community Development Block Grant Funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City of St. Louis Community Development Administration.




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​Judith Arnold, MA-AICPUrban Planner

While many schools have stopped offering music programs, the students in the SLACO afterschool program do not miss out.  In mid-May, the children held a small recital for their parents and guests.

“The benefits of musical instruction go beyond playing an instrument.”  Arnold said.  “Learning music enables overall learning and improves skills that children use in other areas, such as language and emotional development, memory, spatial-temporal skills. The brain works harder and you will see an increase in IQ and coordination.  More than that, music provides children with a sense of pride and self-accomplishment.  They learn the process of self-improvement and stay engaged in learning.” 

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De’Aira Smith, 6, focuses intently during a recital held for the community to culminate an afterschool program at SLACO that taught elementary students how to play the piano.

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Small, eager hands enthusiastically graced keys on keyboards. They awaited their piano teacher’s instruction on a song to review for an upcoming concert. As they struck the keys, the sounds of the melody rang crisp and clear.  The tune started to form a rendition of “Old McDonald.”

It was the beginning of piano practice for 11 children who attended group lessons afterschool at Etzel Community Center. Students in grades Kindergarten through eighth who live in the West End neighborhood received classes weekly on Thursdays at no cost to their families. During the school year, each week they received 1-½ hour sessions of music theory and 4-½ hours of supervised practice.  The St. Louis Association of Community Organizations (SLACO) administered the program with funding from a $4,480 grant from Horizon Housing Foundation.  The sessions began in early November and concluded in late May.  SLACO plans to resume the program with students during the next school year.

“When we first started, the children’s eyes lit up when they saw the keyboards,” said Judith Arnold, the administrator of the group piano lessons and AmeriCorp Volunteer for SLACO.  "Each week, the students learned music theory, musical concepts, and vocabulary, along with basic piano skills," Arnold said.

With Horizon Housing Foundation’s grant support, Arnold was able to hire Irene Franklin to teach music theory to the students. Franklin is a retired music educator from the Normandy School District and has a master’s degree in Music Education.  Arnold, a classically trained pianist, provided support to Franklin by helping the students perfect their music repertoire.

“We created a community of learners,” Arnold said. “Parents accompanied the children on field trips, and recently the group visited the Scott Joplin House.”

Arnold said the group was also recent guests of the St. Louis Symphony, where they listened to Bach 3 performed by Nilolai Lugansky, a young professional pianist.

While many schools have stopped offering music programs, the students in the SLACO afterschool program do not miss out.  In mid-May, the children held a small recital for their parents and guests.  

“We sat in the balcony and could watch his fingers move across the keys," Arnold said. “It's important that children know that there is a little bit more in the world than what they see every day."

Arnold knows a little something about learning the piano at an early age.  Her father, Harold Arnold, was a professional saxophone player who performed with Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other renowned musicians.  He encouraged his two children to learn the piano at age five.

"We practiced at least an hour or more every day.  What was important to him was that we nurtured our talent. Dad wanted us to pass on to others what we experienced.  All five of our children and one grandchild play instruments. Now, we pass music to others. This afterschool program is just one example," Arnold said. 

SLACO Afterschool Program Offered Group Piano Lessons to Students 

SLACO Improving the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the St. Louis region through community-based initiatives, citizen empowerment and neighborhood organizing.