The Blog

An Interview with Chase and Austin

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 8.22.01 AMChase and Austin were interviewed by Wildcat World, the official blog of the Rye Country Day School.

What inspired you to start A-Chord?
Chase: I’ve volunteered at the Carver Center since I was in elementary school and have worked with kids as a camp counselor. It was a natural fit to share my love of music with my incredibly talented friend, Austin, and the kids at Carver.
Austin: Chase and I have always talked about how we would love to find a way to share our passion for music with kids in the community who wouldn’t necessarily have the same opportunities in music that we did growing up. Music has always been such an integral part of our lives, and we always enjoy playing together and learning from each other when we get together. That is what gave us the idea for A-Chord and inspired us to start the program back when we were in the end of middle school and the beginning of high school.
You are both avid and talented musicians. What instruments do you play?
Chase: I started by playing piano in 2nd grade. I also play alto sax and now play for the RCDS band and jazz band, and for the advanced jazz ensemble at the Hoff Barthelson School of Music in Scarsdale. I also play in a Litchfield Jazz Combo in New York City each spring.

Austin: My main instrument is voice but I also play the guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. I also love to write, compose and arrange music (and lyrics) in multiple genres. Currently, I am working on composing some choral pieces for the RCDS choir, Madrigals and WildScats. I also perform as lead singer and guitarist in a jazz/rock/funk/soul band called the Lagond Honors Band that plays gigs locally throughout the year and tours nationally for a few weeks every summer.

Tell us a bit more about A-Chord.
Chase: A-Chord With Kids plays off the meaning of the word “accord” – to bring into harmony – which is what we think music can do to people’s lives. We kicked off A-Chord in the fall of 2012, but the planning started much earlier that year. We had to convince Carver that our idea was a good one, devise a curriculum for the kids and recruit student volunteers to help teach.  We’ve now completed our third session and will start a fourth session in the spring.
Austin: I remember well being at Chase’s house one day freshman year working on developing our proposal for Carver when we starting trying to come with a name that would capture and play on both the concept of teaching music to kids and forging bonds beyond music with the kids. Then we came up with A-Chord With Kids to represent both musical chords to be to taught by the teachers to the students and accords to be built between the teachers and the students.
Our first session of A-Chord was in the fall of 2012 when Chase and I were sophomores. Chase and I spoke with our RCDS musician friends, and so many of them were interested in volunteering alongside us. Our talented and dedicated volunteers include: Malcolm Nash, Melody Hsu, John Ellis, Katherine Ellis, Thomas Ragucci, Nathan Spring, Nathalie Chan, Christine Campisi, Sofia Aklog, Johnny Ma, Alex Goddard, Jimmy Sandling, James Nash, James Ishiguro, David Townley, Kasey Luo, Cece Payne, Daniel Leva, Daniel Aklog, Cameron Goddard and Graham Weber. We could not run the program without their ongoing commitment, and we are grateful every week for their participation. Each session lasts about 10 weeks and culminates in a final performance by all the kids to showcase their newly acquired skills to all the parents, volunteers, and other students. (We just had our session-ending showcase for the Fall 2013 session this weekend.) We meet in the Teen Center at Carver on Saturdays from 11a.m. to 1 p.m.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of A-Chord for you?
Chase: The most rewarding aspect for me has been starting off the season with a child who doesn’t know anything about music and teaching him/her over the weeks to learn something completely new. It can be challenging at times, but I’ve learned a lot about patience!
At the end of each session we have a party where the students perform, and we hand out graduation certificates for their hard work over the weeks. I really enjoy watching all the kids perform and seeing how each one is so proud of his/her accomplishment. For example, I taught a kid to play the saxophone this year, and even though I wondered if he was really enjoying himself or learning, when he performed at the end of the session, he walked away from his performance with a big smile on his face.
Austin: The most rewarding aspect for me has been watching the kids discover that they can learn and play beautiful music too. One can literally watch and see the students’ confidence and self-esteem grow before your eyes. I had a guitar student this session who worked very hard each week to practice and improve her skills. She is very serious about becoming the best guitar player that she can, and it was so fulfilling for both of us to work together. Today she performed a song we had worked on all session before her mother and father and all the other Carver kids, volunteers, and parents. She was so excited that she volunteered to perform first. She did such a beautiful job, and she got a huge applause from all of us. She and I both could not have been prouder. Her parents both came up and hugged me and thanked me after the show. I think she and I will both treasure that moment for a long time.
What have you learned from your involvement with A-Chord?
Chase: It has been incredible how supportive our friends are in giving up several hours every Saturday to help with the program. A-Chord would not be possible without the student teachers and they’ve been great. We have some really talented musicians at RCDS and it’s nice to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the kids at Carver.
This was much harder and lot more work than we imagined! When I look back to our first session, it seems very disorganized. But we made some changes, asked for some advice, and the program now runs smoothly. Despite all the planning before we started, we had to adjust when we realized it wasn’t working as well as we hoped.

Austin: I have been surprised at how much work goes in to running a program and how hard it is to be a good teacher. When one is just a student going to school, one often has no idea how incredibly much thought and effort goes into setting up each school day and every class session. It makes me even more grateful for the education I have been so lucky to have both in music and in academics.

One thing I have learned is how generous, talented and caring RCDS students are. Our fellow volunteers show up every week with enthusiasm and dedication and eagerly work with the Carver kids to support their musical development. I am so grateful for their efforts.
Describe the impact that A-Chord has had on you.
Chase: It has really been great to watch kids who might never have had the chance to learn music pick up an instrument and learn how to play.  For me, it has also confirmed that I really enjoy teaching kids. It has also made me love music even more.
Austin: The students gain tremendous confidence and self-esteem through learning to play and perform music with A-Chord. I believe also they are developing a love and appreciation for music that will enrich them their whole lives. A-Chord has enriched my life on multiple levels as well. I have come to appreciate the teaching of music even more and am more committed than ever to devoting my life to music, both as a composer and performer but also as a teacher. I will always strive to find opportunities like A-Chord where I can share my passion for music with those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
What do you see as the next steps for A-Chord?
Chase: The program has grown to the right size for the Carver Center. We’re able to handle about 20 kids for each session. As for next steps, we would really like to see if we can get students of other schools, such as the Port Chester High School, involved in the program. Now that the program is established and considered a success by the kids, their parents, and the Carver Center, we really want it to live on after we go off to college. We’d like to figure out a way to keep the program going after we’ve gone.
Austin: The A-Chord program gathers momentum and improves in quality with every week and every session. We learn each week what works best in structuring the overall program and teaching the individual lessons, and we carry these best practices forward. For example, just this year we added a weekly performance time at the end of each class, in addition to the one major showcase at the end of the whole session, where we invite kids to perform a piece that they have been working on. We have been amazed how many kids have gained the confidence to perform and many have overcome great initial anxiety to get up before everyone and do their best. And regardless of whether a student plays Hot Cross Buns or a Mozart piano piece, there is always wild applause greeted by a huge smile on the proud performer’s face. In terms of next steps, Chase and I are hoping to continue to grow and improve the program each year. With college looming for both of us and for many of the volunteers, we hope to find a few students who are eager to take over the program for the future.
As I reflect on the last three years of working on A-Chord and learning how to teach music, I realize how grateful I am for all the amazing music teachers in my life, like the brilliant, inspiring, dedicated, unparalleled Ms. Marcell, who have taught me everything I know and given me the greatest gift of music in my life.