By Ivana Giang, JCamp Reporter
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A few muffled notes of Pharrell’s “Happy” played by mismatched instruments became clearer as Tin Yua Lee, 13, squeezed out of a classroom door of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC). The recent Hong Kong immigrant’s English wasn’t perfect, but that didn’t keep him from voicing his love for music at a summer program taking place at the center.
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Tin Yua, better known as Ian, and 25 other students are participating in the Summer Music Academy for Real Teens (SMART)—a free six-week program for Boston youth ages 12 to 15 that runs from July 7 through Aug. 15.
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They’re learning how to write songs, sing and dance thanks to a partnership between BCNC and Chung Changing Lives. The goal is to allow teens with diverse backgrounds but a common passion for music to hone their skills.
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“It’s not only singing songs and making songs, we also know how to cooperate with each other and show teamwork,” Lee said. “We are not individual. We’re not a particle. We are a group. We have each other. Even [after just] a few weeks [and] 26 people, we know each other so well that [it’s like] we knew each other before this program.”
The free program is funded by donors, Chung Changing Lives and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families fund.
CCL’s primary goal is to improve the lives of children through athletics, arts, music and academics. The non-profit organization promotes healthy lifestyles and active civic participation by giving children equal opportunities for character-building experiences.
BCNC teen staff member Angela Chen, 16, is currently helping with SMART. She felt it was time to give back to an institution that gave her the same kind of exposure to a diverse world. The number of students doubled from SMART’s debut last year, but that wasn’t the only surprise in terms of enrollment.
“This is actually the first year we have such [a] diverse group,” Chen said. SMART students now come not only from all over Boston, but also from outside of the state. “When I saw that we had so many new faces, I was really surprised at first, but then I guess it was a good way to interact with people from different areas to show that BCNC is open to anyone.”
SMART songwriting and music theory instructor Georgia English said although she is there to teach, she learns from the students, too.
“It’s cool because the kids come from all over the city from all backgrounds but every single one of them wants to be here,” English said. “Especially with songwriting, you hear each kid tell their own story. You get to hear pieces of the full story that brought them to this one moment.”
At the end of the program, students will present their own creative projects and performances for their friends and family to show what they’ve learned. For Lee and all of the students, staff and instructors involved with SMART, the sense of teamwork and community in the program has had a major impact on their learning despite cultural barriers.
“We are [a] community, no matter what race you are,” Lee said. “In Chinatown, even though you are other races, we welcome you to come. We care about each other. We care about ourselves. We care about the community.”