Engaging children at Keyboard Kamp

Ten local children are preparing for their holiday piano recital, practicing classics like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Jingle Bells.” These children might not have had the chance to perform their favorite Christmas tunes, or even pursue music at all, if it weren’t for 10 Geneseo students donating their time and talent as volunteers. Geoffrey Clough organized the program, called Keyboard Kamp, 13 years ago with support from the community and local figures like Geneseo historian David Parish.

The program started as a summer camp and for the children of Livingston County, ages 8 to 15, who had interest in playing piano or the keyboard. The camp was free of charge for students who might not have had the means to take piano lessons otherwise.

In 2003, Clough extended the summer program and created a partnership with Geneseo students. If music students wished to continue their summer camp experience, they could do so throughout the school year with private lessons given by Geneseo student volunteers. In the past three years, Clough added the option of guitar lessons to the summer and full-year programs. He plans to add voice lessons in the future.

Clough also created a system in which the families and the child can meet with their prospective student teachers before the lessons begin in order to see if the match will work.

Student-to-teacher compatibility is important in Keyboard Kamp. Clough recounts the program’s successes with a clear sense of pride, citing four-year-long student to pupil partnerships and students who overcame difficult family situations to achieve huge successes.

“The music lessons are used as a tool to build the bridge between teacher, student and family,” he said. Over the years, Clough has seen a variety of close connections between the county families and Geneseo students.

For two years junior Caitlyn Edwards has taught through Keyboard Kamp, mentoring 9-year-old Geneseo Central School student Regina Cucchiara since spring 2012. Edwards, a psychology major, has been playing piano for 14 years, and she said she works hard to communicate her passion for the instrument to her pupil.

“It’s a learning process to figure out how you can effectively communicate something to someone who hasn’t necessarily had as much experience as you do,” she said.

Cucchiara’s mother Joahn confirmed that lessons with Edwards have ignited a passion for music in her daughter, who sees Edwards “like a big sister.”

“Regina doesn’t want to disappoint [Edwards], so I don’t even have to ask her to practice.” Joahn Cucchiara added.

Most children are beginners, so a student does not need to be an expert on their instrument.

Senior Nathan Trombley hadn’t played the piano since sixth grade when he signed up to volunteer with Keyboard Kamp at Geneseo’s Volunteer Fair. He said that, while he was able to teach his student to read music and play some basic songs, one of the greatest benefits of the program was connecting with the community.

He understands that teaching piano through the program is about more than playing music. It’s about “making a connection – being there as a resource if they ever need any help. Using music to facilitate that, it’s pretty cool,” Trombley said.

The students participating in piano lessons have a recital at 3 p.m. on Sunday Dec. 8 at the St. Timothy Lutheran Church. It is open to the public.