Children make music with Nashville Salvation Army program
One of the biggest Salvation Army youth arts programs in the Kentucky-Tennessee division is part of Nashville’s Red Shield Kids Club. It has a pop band comprised of 10 children and a summer songwriting series that culminates in the children recording their songs at a Nashville studio for a CD; this is in addition to the regular lessons and classes, including digital audio creation, that teach children about music.
And that’s all while the program is still in its infancy, according to music director Angela McCrary. “I was employed in February 2015, and we didn’t receive instruments until that September,” she said.
Currently, the children are on summer break from school, so they are on a different schedule, but during the school year, the way the Red Shield Kids Club runs, the children first have a snack and work on their homework. Then, they are able to participate in their electives, including all the musical offerings.
As part of the summer schedule, some of the kids will participate in the summer songwriting series, which the Red Shield Kids Club started in 2015 to give kids music experience even before they were able to get instruments.
This summer, the kids in the songwriting series will be working with an organization of poets and songwriters called Southern Word to help craft their tunes. After that songwriting time, they will put the lyrics together with music – either tracks donated by people or ones that are free of charge – and practice before the day they record at Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studio on Music Row.
“They have to really work,” McCrary said. “If they’re not participating in the actual performance of the song, then they have to do something else – be a producer, write up the publicity or help with the artwork. Everybody does something; there are no idle minds or hands.”
The club’s band, The Shield, may also record, as it did last year. It likely won’t be prepared, though, for this year’s Music City Extravaganza, a local commercial music competition by From the Heart Education Foundation that it participated in last year.
The Shield, a 10-member group, formed when the program first got its instruments. With the Red Shield Kids Club only going to age 14, the current members, who were tweens when they started, are now ready to graduate. McCrary plans to restart The Shield with a new set of students.
“That is sad and exciting at the same time,” she said. “It will be interesting to start all over with a new group of kids and see how it turns out.”
Of the first band, which was invited to but could not attend a jazz festival in Colombia, she noted that two members are now part of their church bands – one playing drums and the other piano. Considering only one of the 10 had musical experience (piano lessons) before the band, it’s impressive how well they’ve done, she said.
“The initial band were blank slates. I realized it would take years to teach them theory, so I threw tradition out the window. I found a song they already knew and really liked, and it only had two chords, so I taught them each part. I stuck instruments in hands and said, ‘Play this,’ and when they realized they were actually playing a song, it just really sparked. You could see the light in their eyes.
“They ended up having a nice little repertoire of more than 10 songs to choose from. Three or four songs make a 30-minute set in real life, so for us to have that many was a big deal.”
While McCrary worked with the band members, they – and the other music students – were also taught by students from Belmont University. The Salvation Army has partnered with the school to get its work study students (who are all musically talented, though not all music majors) working with Salvation Army students.
“They give individual lessons here daily. Kids can take flute, saxophone, drums, keyboard, guitar – acoustic and electric – and percussion. We have everything they need to make a band or just be able to take individual lessons.”
As the music program continues to expand, McCrary hopes to build her “tiny people music community.” She has begun to see collaborations forming between the children and plans to continue fostering those. She also wants to begin a monthly workshop series, where musicians will come for a jam session with the kids, which will show them how professional musicians work together.
“It’s really been an amazing journey to start with nothing and now we have all of this going on every day,” she said. “I’m happy to be able to offer this to them. I wish I’d had a place like when I was growing up; there’s no telling how different my music career would have been had I been fostered in such a way. God placed this position right in my life at the right time, and I feel purpose driven every day.”