By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
The Dickinson Music Enrichment Center (DMEC) is in its infancy and is already leading the way in hooking Galveston County kids on band.
A brand-new brass trumpet coated with silver lacquer was earned by Keysen, a seventh grader at McAdams Junior High School in Dickinson. According to Angel, the trumpet coach, the valves on the trumpet are close to professional grade.
Keysen had to earn the right to own this lustrous musical instrument.
Starting in the winter of 2023, Keysen spent two months attending twice a week 45-minute music theory classes at DMEC. He continued with his music lessons and graduated to playing notes on a barrowed trumpet and advanced to some simple tunes for beginners.
He had to do more than just learn how to play music and attend lessons. To earn the trumpet, Keysen had to commit to his school’s band program, which he did in the fall of 2023. For his attendance at lessons and joining the school band he was rewarded with a trumpet that has never been used or even taken out of its factory-issued plastic wrapping.
There are no strings attached to this trumpet. This means it is his to keep for the rest of his life. Maybe he’ll join a prominent band someday, maybe he’ll compose and perform pieces that mesmerize listeners. But for now, he has a lot of learning to do as a musician with his trumpet.
Charles Marcus, executive director of DMEC shared that he was inspired to begin the program when his son’s high school recommended private music lessons.
“I’m a single father. Private music lessons were not in the budget,” Marcus explained. Thus, the idea for DMEC was conceived just a couple of years ago, and the doors to DMEC opened in January 2023.
Marcus, along with his co-founder Sandra Lee, committed to creating DMEC as an organization where students are provided music lessons at no cost. For those families who make enough money to pay their bills but not enough for extras, the program is a real blessing.
The lessons and learning materials are free for students starting at age 9 and continuing through high school. Students are provided with a loaner instrument to use, and then, just like Keysen, once they have completed a course of instruction and commit to their school’s band, they will be given a brand-new instrument. There is an enrollment process with specific details of qualifications which can be found on the DMEC website.
One mother has two children enrolled in lessons and shared that she loves everything about what DMEC is doing for her kids. She said her son is learning to play the trumpet and her daughter is learning to play the flute.
One of the challenges Marcus and Lee had to overcome was finding a place to host the program. “We spent six months searching for a place,” Marcus shared. “Then Holy Trinity church called and offered the space at no cost to DMEC.”
Each Monday and Wednesday evening, Marcus hangs on the doors of the classrooms removable signs naming the instrument that will be taught in one of seven rooms.
Walking into what serves as a church nursery is a young saxophone player with his coach. The coach uses her hands to clap the rhythm for her student while the music is displayed on a screen in front of him.
In another room is a young lady playing musical exercises on a clarinet. Her coach, Rimmy, uses a metronome app on his phone to keep the beat. After she plays a couple bars, he asks her for feedback on what she feels she needs to do differently.
Each young coach employees a gentle, upbeat, and engaging style with his or her students.
Coaches for the program are selected from local high school bands. They also attend training before becoming a coach.
One coach, Kiersten, is a drum major in the Dickinson High School marching band. She’s been playing the flute since she was in sixth grade. She’s also a piccoloist.
Kiersten shared that she sees in her students who she once was a newbie musician.
“They are very eager and want to progress,” Kiersten shared.
She plans to be a high school band director and will be auditioning for Texas universities after the first of the year.
Her students report looking forward to each lesson.
Kiersten manages to teach the piccolo to one young lady and the flute to another. Each student is given ample attention, and Kiersten doesn’t miss a beat in the flow between the two.
Coaching kids on the trombone is Justin McLaren’s responsibility. He has loved music since he was very young and plays the tuba for Dickinson High Schools band.
He comes to the job with his own aspirations to one day be a music educator. His goal is to go as far as completing his doctorate and becoming a college professor in music. In the fall of 2024, he will be attending Sam Houston State University.
Justin reports that he learned about the coaching job and thought it would be great experience. But it was more than the experience that grabbed his attention. The program was founded in honor of Ziyana Jones, whose life ended by a hit and run driver when she was just 17.
Ziyan was a lover of music and bands. She had been the lead clarinet at Dickinson High School. Justin remembers the night before she was killed as unforgettable.
“We didn’t make it to the state competition, and I remember she hugged me and said, ‘There’s always next year’ but there was no next year for her,” shared Justin.
Ziyana’s younger brother is a student of music, and he takes lessons from the trumpet coach.
Janeta Wyatt, Ziyana’s mother pops in on the lessons occasionally to offer her support and to enjoy the children’s musical advancement that is flourishing in her daughter’s honor.
“We’re trying to keep Ziyana’s spirit alive through this musical legacy. She loved the band and was very committed and dedicated,” shared Janeta.
Keeping the spirit of Ziyana and appreciation of music alive in young people is a huge undertaking and can’t be done without support from others. Funds for the program come from corporate grants, public grants, and individual donors. To learn more about how you can become involved with DMEC, visit https://www.tdmec.org or reach out by phone at 832-680-1931.