When Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly was asked for the right time to start the musical education of a child, he replied, “Nine months before the child is born. Better yet, nine months before the mother is born.”
Making a musical education available to all is the mission of Musicall, a Miami-Dade County nonprofit that offers lessons to children regardless of their income, age, health and ethnic background.
Musicall’s mission: Better society through music.
“Musicall is a play with words,” said Executive Director Juan Carlos Gonzalez, 45. “That's music for all, or all about music. We made up a short name that can be remembered easily.”
Gonzalez’s wife, Taimy Balbuzano, 41, had been thinking about starting a musical enrichment program for children ever since she was a music teacher at Gateway Christian Academy. There, she saw how students, including her son, improved socially and academically when they started to study music.
“And since not all the parents had the resources to pay for the music education, we started to think about a low cost or a free way to offer it to those who could not afford it, a community program,” Gonzalez said.
Community programs are not easy to organize, however. So the couple opted for something else.
“In 2010, Taimy decided to start a group class for children 3, 4, and 5 years old,” Gonzalez said. “We turned our living room into a magical room, with many instruments. The class was for all types of children, from the underprivileged to the handicapped.”
The program was a success, and in 2013 Gonzalez and Balbuzano decided to establish Musicall Inc. Although they were not in the best financial situation and the process was long and complicated, the IRS approved their non-profit status in less than six months.
“We started classes in churches and community centers, and in less than one year we launched our first string orchestra,” said Gonzalez. He and his wife work full-time on the project.
Musicall still offers that first course, Music for the Family, for children 1 to 3 ½ years old and their parents. It also offers Four Hands, for pre-schoolers and their parents, a series of lessons that includes the piano, the do-re-mi musical note system and music theory. Classes for children 6 years and older include instruments like violin, viola, cello and classical guitar.
But orchestras are the main goal of the program.
“We have three string orchestras divided according to levels,” said Gonzalez. “The first is Vivace, directed by professor Besnik Hashani. Intermezzo is in the middle, with Dr. Melissa Lesniak. And Orpheus, the most advanced, is led by Vivian Ventura. We also have classes on popular guitar and violoncello, and a Musicall Children Chorus directed by Taimy.”
Hashani is orchestra director for South Miami Middle School's music magnet program; Ventura is orchestra director for Arvida Middle School music magnet program since 2004; and Lesniak was Greater Miami Youth Symphony’s executive director for 10 years. She currently teaches at University of Miami and is outreach director at UM’s Frost School of Music, where she supervises the Donna E. Shalala MusicReach Program.
Musicall also offers winter and spring concert programs, as well as community events and a summer camp. This year, it plans to add high school music teachers, raise more funds and stage free concerts in community centers.
Like all non-profits, Musicall faces financial challenges. About 65 percent of funding comes from tuitions. The rest comes from Miami Dade County Cultural Affairs and Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs grants, concerts and donations.
“We are a young organization, and in the first two years we did not receive economic assistance from official institutions,” Gonzalez said. “But we manage to grant scholarships each year to 50 percent of our students with economic difficulties, so we're moving ahead and keeping the doors open all year.”
For More Information
Musicall programs are based at South Miami Middle Community School, 6750 SW 60th St. in South Miami; and Gibson-Bethel Community Center, 5800 SW 66th St. in South Miami.
Summer camp will run at Arvida Middle School, 10900 SW 127th Ave, Miami, from June 19 to July 14. Cost is $600 per camper, but scholarships are available for children ages 5 to 18.