Bahama Village Music Program is a community music education program that has been serving the Key West area of Bahama Village since 1999. The program is dedicated to giving underpriveleged kids the gift of music. We chatted with BVMP’s executive director, Katchen Duncan, to learn more about the program and its impact on its community.
Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about the history and founding of Bahama Village Music Program.
Katchen: Bahama Village Music Program was founded in 1999 following the retirement of beloved Bahama Village piano teacher Ellen Sanchez. Robin Kaplan, the program founder, recognized the void in the neighborhood and founded BVMP in a storage room off the stage in the Frederick Douglass Gym with a few student teachers and a dozen students. Students showed up whether it was time for their lessons or not, and it was soon realized that this was really something the neighborhood and the community at large needed.
DCA: What is unique about the population that BVMP serves?
Katchen: BVMP’s student population is very diverse, with students from all walks of life mingling together in ensemble classes and workshops. BVMP mainly serves low income at risk youth but any child is allowed to participate. Still, over 80% of our student’s families report an income under the ALICE level. Many of our students are first generation americans, and some are the only english speaking members of their families. A really unique aspect of BVMP is the student teacher model, BVMP students become teachers when they reach high school offering not only after school employment but also something to work towards! Having the goal of becoming a student teacher inspires our students to work hard on their practicing and musicality.
DCA: What types of programs does BVMP offer?
Katchen: BVMP offers individual lessons in piano, guitar, drums, woodwinds, brass and strings. We also offer ensemble classes in music theory, composition, choir, a cappella, ukulele, school of rock, violin, dance, steel pan and musical theater. Through our partnership with the local school district we were able to expand our programming to offer classes before and after school at our city’s largest elementary and middle school. These popular programs have received much support from the community as the local school had cut music programs from their curriculum.
DCA: How many students are involved in BVMP programs?
Katchen: Over 175 students participate in lessons or ensemble classes at our main location with over 50 students participating at the local school we have partnered with. Over 225 students a week receive free music lessons!
DCA: You just wrapped up your third year of summer programming. Tell us about it.
Katchen: Our BVMP summer camp is the best! The campers have so much fun and really learn a ton in such an immersive environment. Having the students for 8 hours a day five days a week really ups their musicianship and creativity. The amazing results are evident! Our songwriting class wrote 10 different songs! Our ukulele class learned how to fingerpick in six weeks! The end of summer recital brought the house down.
DCA: What is the best part about your job?
Katchen: The best part of my job is the kids. When they spill off the bus at the end of the day so excited to see you and get started on their music lessons, you realize you’re doing exactly the right thing. They inspire us more than they know. It’s even better when adult students come back and tell you how much their time at BVMP meant to them. After almost 20 years, we are starting to teach the second generation of BVMP students!
DCA: What are your hopes for BVMP in the future?
Katchen: I hope that we can continue to give the gift of music for many years to come! We are looking forward to celebrating 20 years of free music education next year and I barely believe that we’ve made it this far!
DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?
Katchen: Culture and art are the building blocks for a great society. Many ancient philosophers saw this and we have all seen it to be true through our local art programs and cultural events. These are the things that make each community unique and inspiring. At BVMP we tout the benefits of music education on the individual; increased cognitive development, better scores on tests, enhanced problem solving skills. But we know that putting the ideas and feelings of making music, collaborating with others without words, expressing emotions through playing and listening, make our students better human beings. More connected to their community and themselves, art and culture make everyone strive to be better and create things to make our world better.
The DCA thanks Katchen Duncan, executive director, for her participation in this post. To learn more about Bahama Village Music Program, visit: http://www.bvmpkw.org/.