Detroit Youth Volume Provides a ‘Classical’ Education for Urban Kids

Detroit music comes in all shapes and forms – even classical. For many musicians, classical training is the foundation that shapes subsequent musical development, allowing the player to branch out into other areas of exploration.

As the old adage goes, classical music makes babies smarter, and one might extend that same line of thinking to K-12 students. But with music less a part of the conversation, due in part to an increasing push for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and cuts in music funding has seemed to be in a perpetual state of interlude. That's where Detroit Youth Volume steps in.

Using the famed Suzuki method, the organization instructs youth ages 3-18 in the disciplines of violin and viola, which, according to their website, is conducted weekly in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's education wing: "The Suzuki approach nurtures students' ability to persevere, be creative, embrace hope, and to collaborate and empathize with others." It is currently in its eighth year of operation.

Students will find more than just a set of rules, methodologies and fingering practices, it's also about music appreciation and enrichment.  

"The mission is to create love and joy in music," says Diana Christensen, communications manager of Detroit Youth Volume. "I think Detroit Youth Volume is essential to the city and Detroit's children. The base mission is everything that Detroit stands for – diversity."


That diversity is exemplified in its student body, as well with its teachers. Detroiter Ashley Nelson has been an instructor with Detroit Youth Volume for three years. Nelson, a graduate of Renaissance High School and Wayne State University – with a bachelor's degree in violin performance – has understood first-hand the importance of black students having access to a quality music education. She's been playing since the age of 9, but admits that lack of exposure, resources and opportunities contribute to the some of the reasons why more blacks don't find their way to classical music.

"I have been very fortunate to receive some of the best classical training in the world, and have (had) the opportunity to meet and work with some really talented musicians and mentors, both black and non-black," Nelson says. "That is extremely priceless. On the other hand, I've also faced opposition. There were times when I did not feel welcome in certain environments playing with orchestras or ensembles, and even teaching. I could have allowed the negative experiences to keep me from moving forward but I knew deep down that I could not give up. That keeps me going." 

There is a cost associated with these lessons, but many students are eligible for financial aid, or even full scholarships. This furthers its mission to provide an avenue of resources and opportunities for young Detroiters.

"With so many arts programs being eliminated from schools, DYV has been a 'saving grace' for students in Detroit (majority black students) to benefit from the world-renowned Suzuki method," Nelson says. "Students in DYV are taught how to treat others with respect, all while learning to play violin and viola, the best instruments on this side of heaven! It's a winning combination."

Detroit Youth Volume

3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit


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