Project CHEER is more than piano and guitar lessons

By Barry Kempton

Today’s blog is written by Joanna Kirby, who has been the Director of Project CHEER for over 25 years. Project Cheer began as an after-school music lesson program in 1969, and has continued to provide free and affordable music tuition in specific St. Paul neighborhoods, continuing a tradition which goes back to 1911.  Assisted by 2 supporting teachers, Joanna teaches just over 100 kids in piano and guitar.

Project CHEER is more than piano and guitar lessons

by Joanna Kirby

As I begin my 27th year with Project CHEER (Creative Help through Enrichment and Educational Resources), I reflect on the wonderful experiences that I have had over all these years.  I don’t know how many people can say they love their job after 27 years, but I still say that all the time.

This summer we held a choir camp “CHEER for Singing”.  This was the first time we did anything like this, and it was a great success!  We had students from 2nd grade through 10th grade all together singing, dancing and making up their own dances.  We talked about music theater, music as protest, American music in history, and folk songs.  Every day we had special guests sharing their expertise.  We had a tour of Penumbra Theater located in the Hallie Q Brown/Martin Luther King Community Center just down the hall from Project CHEER.  One of The Schubert Club Museum guides came to play some Irish folk songs that had all of our students dancing.  It is fun to see a boy in high school get a second grader to get up and dance to an Irish Folk song!  Our final guest for the week was a Project CHEER Alumni student who now writes his own music and plays in a band that he started.  He got his start playing guitar at Project CHEER many years ago at the age of 7.  It was fun to hear all the students ask him questions about his start at Project CHEER.

I love to see students that I had way back in the beginning of my career with Project CHEER come back with their own children to start piano and guitar lessons. It warms my heart to know that the experience they had as a child at Project CHEER is something that they want to share with their own children, and I get to see what wonderful adults they have turned into raising their own children to appreciate and enjoy music.

This summer one of the Project CHEER families that has been with the program for many years is expanding their family by adopting three children from Haiti.  The eleven year old girl has arrived speaking almost no English, but has begun her piano lessons. She didn’t seem very interested at first, but when I opened the piano to show her how the hammer hits the strings and makes the sound, she started to show some interest.  I received an email “Thank you for accommodating my girls yesterday. I love the way you got Samantha interested. She was showing my husband this morning!” It will be fun to meet the six year old boy this upcoming week as the mom will be bringing him home from Haiti today, and he will have his first lesson a couple of days later.

Project CHEER is so much more to me than teaching piano and guitar lessons.  It is getting to know the families and instilling the love of music into their homes.  We have had pianos donated that have made their way into homes that didn’t have one, and then those same pianos donated again when those children have outgrown them only to find their way into another Project CHEER family home.  It is the high school student that started at Project CHEER as a first grader and graduated this spring tearing up at the recital as she gave me a hug and told the audience that she would really miss Project CHEER.


About Project CHEER

Project CHEER is a program of The Schubert Club and has been operating at the Hallie Q. Brown/ Martin Luther King Center since 1969.  Project CHEER’s activities grew out of a Schubert Club program that started in 1911 at the West Side Neighborhood House.  Project CHEER acquired its name and its focus from Prentice Harris, former music director at the Hallie Q. Brown Center, who was the program’s first director.

Project CHEER  offers free piano and guitar lessons to students who would not otherwise prioritize private music instruction. Lessons are 15 minutes long, and usually shared between two students.  Students are able to take two lessons on each instrument a week.

Learn more here