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Music Program at Oakland Elmhurst United Middle School Receives Much-Needed Boost

Music Program at Elmhurst United Middle School Receives Much-Needed Boost from Elevate Oakland & Guitar Center; Legendary Oakland Musician, Sheila E. Joins Celebration

Percussionist and singer, Sheila E. (center in black) with Elmhurst United music students and educators, and representatives from Elevate Oakland and the Guitar Center Music Foundation.
Music Program at Elmhurst United Middle School Receives Much-Needed Boost from Elevate Oakland & Guitar Center
Legendary Oakland Musician Sheila E. Joins Celebration

Oakland – Elmhurst United Middle School is playing a new tune because of a major grant from the Guitar Center Music Foundation in partnership with Elevate Oakland. Elmhurst received $25,000 which paid for a variety of upgraded and new instruments including drums, electric guitars, brass, and woodwinds. It also revitalized and beautified the school’s music room, which included adding a new soundproof practice room.

Few people know the importance of music at this school better than music teacher Deario Austin who says music quite likely saved his life. After attending Elmhurst, he pursued music in high school. “Around that time, my best friend – whose niece I actually teach – was killed. He got shot two blocks from Elmhurst. And we were 15. Had he been doing music, or had he come around and been in this class with me, had he had the same people pressuring him to go and do something different than hang outside, he might still be here. So, my goal is to teach the kids the same thing.“

“(Music) can take you to a place you never imagined,” Austin told the students gathered at a special event on Wednesday, February 16. It was a celebration of the upgraded music program, with a special guest, legendary Oakland percussionist Sheila E. She echoed Austin’s sentiments. “Music heals people. It can save their lives. We’ve had a lot of students say to us that they were in a lot of trouble, going out in the streets. And some of the programs we have started with Elevate Oakland, changed them. And they stopped doing what they were doing. And they didn’t realize that even though they loved music, that they could be part of the music scene, where they could create and write themselves, or rap and tell their story.”

The students and teachers expressed their gratitude to Guitar Center and Elevate Oakland for their reenergized music department. “I’m really grateful for all this because growing up, as a little kid, I never knew about any of this stuff, I never knew how to play. And when we got these instruments, it was like, “Oh no, this is really hard, and now that we have all these teachers, especially Ms. Jack, she’s my favorite teacher, and it’s really good to have her, because it’s really easy to play the instruments,” said 6th grade clarinet player Yassin Mohamed.

The jam session with Sheila E., and the soundproof practice room.
“It feels really good because I’m learning a new skill that can potentially lead to jobs, and if one career path doesn’t work out, I can have a fall back career. So, it’s a really useful thing in life. And as Mr. D., Ms. Jack, everybody says, music can save lives,” said 8th grade clarinet player, Reign Chapman.

“This is actually going to help us with our extended day program,” said Elmhurst music teacher, Helena Jack. “Rather than having just one thing, not having the equipment to expand, we can do it. (Before) it was really hard to do one thing at a time, because we had only one thing that worked. So now, with this whisper room (the soundproof practice room) with the addition of that, it just really changes the trajectory.”

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The highlight of the event may have been the student jam session that included Austin, and the teacher he credits with helping him immerse himself in music as a teenager, Helena Jack. They were all thrilled that Sheila E. joined them on the drums, as well, and so was she. “That was amazing. They did a great job,” she said of the students, promising to come back and jam with them again.

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