FITCHBURG — Eddy Troxler starts with a song.
“If I can get them to play something they’re going to stick with it,” he said.
Sometimes it’s “Ode to Joy”, sometimes it’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, but learning a melody, he said, is key to encouraging students to keep practicing and learning.
Troxler is one of the organizers of Music for Youth, a program that offers free and low-cost music lessons to low income youth.
Though similar programs taught by Troxler have taken other forms over the years, his music store’s partnership with Fitchburg Cultural Alliance, started a little under a year ago.
In that time Troxler and two other teachers have taught about 30 students either one-on-one or through a twice a week after school program at Longsjo Middle School.
Jennifer Jones, of the Fitchburg Cultural Alliance, talks about her affiliation with Fitchburg s Music for Youth program at Eddy s Music last week. Fundraising efforts are under way to help the program continue to flourish in the city.
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“I try to have them have some input into what we do, but usually we work on a song,” instructor Justine McDonald said. “Some people are learning vocals on the song. Some people are learning on the keyboard. Some people might be doing percussion.”
Most recently, the students have been working on “Heart and Soul,” but many of the songs they work on together during the drop-in sessions are recent pop songs, according to McDonald.
Troxler, who owns Eddy’s Music Co. on Mill Street, said while lessons are helpful, most of the improvement happens at home.
“Part of my job is to encourage them to want to practice at home,” Troxler said. “That’s where the learning is going to happen. Even if they can do 15 minutes a day they’re going to get better.
To this end, the Music for Youth program also gives donated or wholesale instruments to students. Recently one of McDonald’s students was presented a free electric keyboard.
“Recently there was a girl who showed a big interest in keyboard,” McDonald said. “Now she’s able to practice at home and that was very rewarding.”
Troxler, who has a masters degree in education from UMass Boston, said he was never good at sports or a strong student, but he could play music.
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“Music, for me, was the outlet that I needed,” he said.
Through this program, he hopes others will also find an outlet in music.
Jennifer Jones, treasurer of the Fitchburg Cultural Alliance, agreed.
“You see a different side of the kid entirely,” Jones said. “Going to the lesson, being with a teacher — that whole package for these kids — gives them a special identity and confidence.”
The Fitchburg Cultural Alliance helps Troxler secure grants and raise money to continue the program.
A bit less than $2000 has kept the program running so far, but the program is looking for continuing donations through id GoFundMe page, goo.gl/d7Fuai.
A recent fundraising effort by 2005 Fitchburg High School graduate Monica McNamara has also helped, Jones said.
McNamara held her 30th birthday celebration at Destaré in May and through the party raised $800 for Music for Youth program.
McNamara, a singer in several local bands, said she worked in the nonprofit sector of MTV and VH1 for several years and saw the benefit of programs similar to Music for Youth.
When she returned to Fitchburg, she was interested in starting something like this, but discovered Troxler’s program.
She said she hopes to work with the Cultural Alliance and Troxler to expand the nonprofit organization.
“I just think that music is the universal language. We can all connect through music,” she said. “At the center of it all, it just brings people joy.”