Access to music and musical training can change lives, especially for inner-city youth. In this fascinating interview, Phoenix-based professional horn player, teacher, book author, and IHS exhibits coordinator Dr. Rose French shares her experiences at Rosie's House. Want to know what that is? Read on and let yourself be inspired! -KMT
Kristina Mascher-Turner: What was the impulse behind your interest in helping out underprivileged children in the first place?
Rose French: I was very fortunate to learn about Rosie’s House just after I had moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 2003. At first it was not as apparent to me why Rosie’s House is such an important place, but as I started to teach there, it reminded me of what a profound impact music and my music teachers had on my childhood. The truth is that I did not grow up any different from my students: I went to Head Start, a government program that provides comprehensive early education, health, nutrition, and family services to poverty-level children and their families. When it came time to pick an instrument in school, my parents could not afford to rent an instrument, which is how I ended up starting with the horn, since the school provided them. As a senior in high school, I finally purchased my own horn after auditioning at Duquesne University, sending a check every week for $50 to Bill Caballero from my job working at Sears! Fortunately, later in the year won a scholarship from my local symphony that helped me pay for the rest of the instrument.
From growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, I feel really fortunate to have the life and the experiences that I have had already, however it’s the education that makes all the difference. It’s important for me to show my students that it they can use the life skills that they learn from playing the horn to apply to their lives and to be whatever they want.
KMT: How did the founding of Rosie's House come about? Can you tell us a bit about the mission and scope of the activities?
RF: Rosie’s House is committed to playing a pivotal role in a child’s future and strengthening our community. Founded in 1996 by Rosie Schurz, a German immigrant, the Academy was established in a small home in an impoverished neighborhood in Central Phoenix, Arizona. Rosie’s goal was to create a save haven for youth to express their creativity and pursue their dreams.
During World War II, Rosie’s family fled her home in Germany, and on her family’s journey to safety, eight-year-old Rosie was forced to leave her violin. Throughout her life, her sense of loss for her violin remained poignant; and finally, as an adult, she found respite in providing a second “home” to disadvantaged children. Rosie’s own story of war and hope inspires the values and mission of Rosie’s House. Our home provides children everything Rosie wanted as a child: safety, stability and music.
Rosie’s House began with 45 students and has since grown to an afterschool music academy with over 400 students ages 5-18. Students are only accepted if they meet financial need requirements, all students receive free weekly lessons and an instrument to use while they are part of the academy. Rosie’s House currently offers lessons in strings, woodwinds, brass, classical guitar and piano as well as opportunities to perform in choir. Honoring the musical heritage of many of our students, Rosie’s House also has a beginning, intermediate and advanced mariachi ensemble. In addition to weekly lessons or group classes, students participate in a recital at the end of each semester and give back to the community by performing at local hospitals, Veterans’ Centers and retirement communities. These performances build confidence and self-esteem and help students with setting and meeting goals, and teach the importance of being a member of their community.KMT: How do you go about getting donations of instruments and equipment?
RF: Rosie’s House will gladly accept donations, instruments and equipment. They have a wish list outside of instruments and if you are an Arizona resident, you can donate to Rosie’s House and receive the Working Poor Tax Credit. Rosie’s House is also a 501c3, so all donations are tax-deductible. (http://rosieshouse.org/support/donate.shtml)
For the horn program, we could use some great double horns, mouthpieces and sponsorship of lessons for students so we can increase the size of our studio!
KMT: The opportunity to have free music lessons goes way beyond learning an instrument. Can you share a typical story of how a child's life has changed for the better through their experiences at Rosie's House?RF: Music lessons do go beyond learning an instrument. You are a mentor, you are a therapist, you are an advocate, and you are a career counselor. I always approach learning to play the horn as a life-long love, a tool to help my students further their education and also a sense of pride through their own work. The idea of empowering a student with the ability to see how their own work instills a sense of pride and accomplishment is not something that goes away if they choose a career outside of music. Rather they learn the power of their own work, their own dedication to their goals in life and they learn how to get from where they are to what they want to be. They learn how close out the noise of living in a poor neighborhood, going to an overly populated school with gangs and violence and drugs. They can pull an instrument out of its case and focus in on producing a beautiful sound, note by note, on the horn.
I can’t say that I have a typical story of my students, I have had students from incredible, loving families with a rich life because of the happy home they have. I’ve also had students in the past who live in constant fear of deportation and their parents work dangerous and exhausting jobs to provide a better life for their children. Those students change in high school. They do begin to lose hope about their future as they become more aware of the world around them. However, this is where a place like Rosie’s House makes all the difference. Last year 100% of our graduating students had plans to attend college. It’s not just music we teach. I believe with my entire heart that it only takes an hour lesson every week to change a student’s entire life, to teach him his worth, instill a sense of self-esteem, and give a language that makes him part of humanity. No one can ever take away those experiences.
I recently had a student whose entire family moved to the East Coast. Being a shy kid that I couldn’t really get to talk much in lessons, at his last lesson I gave him a card that said when he’s sad or lonely or angry after he moves, he’ll always have his horn and that he has an outlet for all those feelings and that the horn will also help him make new friends that share his love of music. When we teach music, we teach something that never goes away, even if we stop playing. Those memories and feelings stay with us forever.
KMT: How many faculty do you have on staff? How many students benefit from free instruction every year?
RF: NUMBERS OF NOTE: 2014-2015 SCHOOL YEAR
- 400+ The number of students enrolled at Rosie’s House during the school year
- 11,000 The number of lessons taught
- 160+ The number of instruments loaned
- 50+ The number of recitals, concerts, master classes and special events
- 3,500+ The number of service hours performed by students, parents and board members100% Of Rosie’s House families are classified as low to moderate income
- 4 Staff members
- 22 Music faculty members
- 75% of music faculty members have a Masters degree or higher on the instrument they teach
- $494,000 Rosie’s House annual budget
KMT: What are some ways musicians can volunteer in their own communities?
- Hold one scholarship spot for a deserving student in your studio each year.
- Donate or loan any instruments, music or items that have been sitting in your closet for years to someone who could put them to go use.
- Offer scholarships to deserving students in your community to go to music camp. It will change their life.
- Take your students to concerts. Teach them the language and the love of live performances.
- Perform at veterans’ homes, retirement centers, hospitals, hospice or for recent immigrants at the International Rescue League in your area. Take your talent to people who can’t afford it.
- Give free tickets to your concerts to families that can’t afford to attend. Meet them before the concert, welcome them to your “home” and introduce them to what your concert will be like as an audience member. My chamber ensemble is in residence at the same location as Rosie’s House. All students and their families are welcome to attend all of our events for free.
- Get involved with your local school programs. If you have the time and the consistency, offer to coach or give lessons to elementary students.
- If you have skills outside of music that you can share, serve on a non-profit board.
- Perform for free….only for causes that you are passionate about.
- Raise money for causes you are passionate about. My chamber ensemble members each selected a charity last season and we fundraised for a 5K, charity walk or event. From Best Buddies (an international organization that benefits people with intellectual disabilities) to One-N-Ten (an organization that serves LGBTQ youth in Phoenix), we raised several thousand dollars to give to our community to support causes we each were passionate about.
KMT: Do the students who go through the programs at Rosie's House tend to stick with music once they leave?
RF: Yes, 80% continue to play their instrument after they graduate from Rosie’s House.
KMT: What role do parents of these kids play in their musical education? What is expected of them?
RF: Parents play a vital role in the day-to-day operations are required to complete three volunteer hours per student, per semester and can choose how to complete hours. Volunteer roles include assisting at recitals, performances, and events to helping out in the community garden on campus. By completing these hours parents, help us to deliver our mission effectively, despite our small staff and limited funding. Parents also play a role in a student’s success. We have found over the years that the more successful students have strong parental support at home by encouraging their practice routine, attending recitals and getting them to lessons and performances.
KMT: How do you balance your charitable work with your professional performing engagements? (Do you ever get any sleep?)
RF: Due to funding, available space, and available instruments, I only have two students this year at Rosie’s House. However, Rosie’s House is now located at a church in central Phoenix, a short bike ride from my house!
Rose French is the Founder of the Mill Ave Chamber Players, a professional chamber ensemble that holds over fifty concerts as part of five chamber music series in the greater Phoenix area and is on the faculty of Arizona State University, Phoenix College and Grand Canyon University. She has been a contributing artist at the International Horn Symposium in Los Angeles, London, Brisbane, Australia and Cape Town South Africa, where she also the won the Dorothy Frizelle International Horn Excerpt Competition. In the Southwest, Rose is principal horn of the West Valley Symphony and has performed with the Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Opera, Tucson Symphony, Flagstaff Symphony, Orquestra Sinfonica de Monterrey, Orquestra de Baja California, and toured China twice as principal horn of the American Festival Orchestra. In 2014 she was nominated for the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award.
In 2013 she was a guest artist and chamber music coach at the Saarburg (Germany) International Chamber Music Festival and has taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts and NAU Curry Music Camp. She serves as Exhibits and Advertising Coordinator for the International Horn Society, maintains a private studio, and teaches at Rosie's House: a non-profit music academy that provides free instruction and instruments to under-served youth. She has published two books, Rangesongs (2012) and Horn Player’s Songbook (2015), both published by Mountain Peak Music. French completed her Doctorate of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University and hold degrees in Music Education, Music Technology, and Performance from Duquesne University.