Marin Arts & Culture MAC_JUNE_upload - Page 21

M usic lifts children’s spirits and enriches their lives, but not all kids get the chance to make their own music, and that’s something Leela Pratt, executive director of Young Performers International, is working to remedy. It all started when she was aboard a boat in the Windward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean Sea on a vacation she’d spent years saving for. “I would lie in these big nets and think, ‘What do I really want to do?’” she recalls. The answer was creating a community for children using music. ”I wanted all children, regardless of their economic circumstances, to have the best instruction,” she says, explaining that giving them all the same quality and number of lessons would lead to competence, self- confidence, fulfillment and an open heart. Pratt had a privileged upbringing, but music made her the happiest. She liked harmony and the experience of everyone singing together. “That’s what I decided to do and never looked back,” says Pratt. She started teaching music when she was a student at Vassar College and gave lessons to earn the money to pay for phone calls to her boyfriend. She later used music to teach English on a tiny Greek Island. By 2000, she was the head of the upper-level music program at Redwood Day, a school in Oakland, and that summer she rented space at the Oakland California (Mormon) Temple, where Young Performers International (YPI) got its start. Over the years, YPI added music programs in San Francisco and Marin County, and eventually Pratt moved to Marin and made it YPI’s home base. YPI offers programs for children from 3 to 14. “We start kids at 3, because they’re able to hold a beat,” Pratt explains. She describes a 3-year-old playing the drums while his father accompanies him on bass, and says it’s fantastic. Students have the opportunity to express themselves through music instruction, performance, composition and other performing arts, and the pleasure grows when kids make music in bands. “You take the joy you get personally from music and add a band, and it’s one of the best things in the world,” says Pratt. YPI offers rock and jazz bands, and Pratt recalls a band called Living Proof, which got its name because the students were out to prove that rock ’n’ roll is alive and well. During a performance, one of the band’s members wasn’t satisfied with the way they ended a song, so she explained her concern to the audience and asked if they’d like to hear it again—and then they did it over. It’s an example of music giving young people the confidence to tackle a difficult situation. “These MARIN ARTS & CULTURE 21