June 05--Beethoven said music "is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents." For many children today, that soil is devoid of fertilizer because of funding cuts to music programs in schools.
Five Ransom High School students are doing their part to till the soil and bring music to kids who can't otherwise afford instruments or lessons. They formed a charity band called Reckless Youth. The name is misleading, because these kids are anything but reckless.
Through concerts and donations, they have raised $6,500 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and $3,000 to launch an after-school guitar club for 15 sixth graders at the Young Men's Prep Academy in Wynwood.
The band members-- with some help from their parents -- incorporated as a non-profit, "Young Musicians Organization.'' Their goal is to keep the guitar club going long after they've graduated from Ransom, maybe even expand it to other schools.
This isn't your typical garage band. For one thing, the "garage" they rehearse in every Sunday night is a spacious air-conditioned room at the Miami Beach home of philanthropist Jeffrey Miller, whose father, Leonard Miller, founded Lennar Corp. Miller's son, Anthony, is the drummer and a Ransom water polo player.
The band's lead singer, Cristi Schlesinger, is a runner and the daughter of People's Court TV judge Marilyn Milian and Circuit Judge John Schlensinger. Luke Civantos plays keyboards and lacrosse, Matt Hanzman plays bass and golf, and Kane Akar is the lead guitarist and a rower. Akar's mother, Virginia, is the band's "Momager.''
Last Friday, the Ransom kids got to see and hear the fruits of their labor. They were invited to Young Men's Prep for the guitar club's first concert. After just four months of lessons, the young boys performed two rock songs and two Flamenco pieces.
"It felt great to see their recital because we knew we had given them something they wouldn't have had,'' said Kane Akar. "You could tell how much they were enjoying it.''
Watching proudly and helping build this unique bridge between privileged and under-privileged children, is Sammy Gonzalez, the guitar instructor and mentor for both groups of students. An accomplished musician who has toured all over the world, he has been giving Akar private lessons for six years, and was instrumental in forming Reckless Youth.
The group first got together last year for a school charity event called Rock For Relief.
Gonzalez also formed the guitar club at Young Men's Prep, recruiting 12 guitarists, a bass player, drummer, keyboardist and percussionist. He gives them lessons twice a week after school.
"I wasn't a rich kid, and couldn't afford new guitars or private lessons until college, so I learned music through free public school programs,'' said Gonzalez, a 27-year-old graduate of Miami Beach High. "These days, with so many schools cutting music programs left and right, kids are missing out on that exposure to music, which could change their lives.''
He said both sets of students are learning from the experience.
"The band kids are very well off, but they're really down-to-earth, and the first time they went to the Wynwood school and met with the kids there, they were very sweet with them,'' Gonzalez said. "They could see those kids live in a different world, and that's good for them to see. It's great that they are giving back, sharing their love for music with kids who might otherwise be hanging on the streets after school.''
Virginia Akar is thrilled that her son and his friends are making music and a difference at the same time.
"The first time I saw them play in Rock for Relief, I thought, 'Hey, these kids sound pretty good. They should do this permanently and raise money for other causes','' she said. "One thing led to another. Our next step is applying for grants so the kids can fund more projects.''
This summer, they plan to record their first CD, which will include five original songs. All the proceeds from sales will go into the charitable foundation.
Gonzalez has seen a difference in the Ransom students since the inception of the band.
"They're learning how to create something from scratch, which most kids never learn,'' he said. "They are seeing how you can start your own charity and help kids directly, rather than just donating money to an established organization. They are working directly for and with these kids, and can watch as they grow over the years. It's awesome, really awesome, to see."
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