WOVEN program offers free music lessons to local children

Warm lights fill the stage as the seats begin to glow with the cool, blue light of mobile devices. Demarion Watson, guitar in hand, walks up the steps and takes his place center stage. This is the moment he has been preparing for all semester. Guitar instructor, Josiah Murphy, gives him a short introduction and powers up the amplifier, stepping aside as the student takes a deep breath. He holds captive the attention of the audience as he begins to play “Plug In Baby” by Muse. As the final note rings out, a great applause erupts and Watson walks off the stage triumphantly.


Demarion Watson, 13, has been involved with WOVEN since he was in fourth grade. Photo by Ericka Sura


Watson, a 13-year-old student at Minnehaha Academy, has been enrolled in the WOVEN music program at North Central since he was in fourth grade. The program offers free music lessons to inner city children, and has done so since 2002. WOVEN, an acronym for “With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods,” was originally focused on the Elliot Park community, but has since grown to include students from all over Minneapolis. The WOVEN season stretches over a semester, with a recital on April 10 bringing an end to the spring season. North Central students volunteer to teach different instruments. Murphy, a senior media communications major, started volunteering with the program this semester.

“When I was first asked to participate in WOVEN as an instructor, I was nervous because I had never taught music before,” Murphy said. “The experience has stretched me, and it’s been a great way to give back to the community.”

Lessons have been held in Mensing since the program first began. The mission of WOVEN has remained the same over the years: to offer children the opportunity to learn music, an opportunity they wouldn’t normally be able to achieve due to economic restrains.

There is currently a wait list for neighborhood students wanting to be involved, but the number of openings is dependent on how many instructors are available. Anyone can apply to be an instructor; it is not limited to music majors.

Amanda Whitcomb, a junior worship leading major, also finished her first semester teaching for the program.

Despite her busy schedule, Whitcomb said she sees the value in contributing to the community through the WOVEN program.

“There is a huge need for teachers. So I made it a priority in my schedule,” Whitcomb said.

Lessons take place on Monday nights at 5 p.m. and typically end several weeks before finals. The program originally began with only piano lessons and has since grown to meet the desires of the students. At the spring recital, students displayed their skills on a wide range of instruments: from singing to guitar and even drums.


Freshman Dani Clarke encourages her student during the end of the year recital. Photo by Ericka Sura

Gina Zarletti, booking and tour coordinator for the College of Fine Arts oversees the coordination of WOVEN.

“My ideal number of teachers would be how ever many it takes to get kids off the waiting list” said Zarletti.

This semester 22 kids were enrolled, though WOVEN has previously reached enrollment of over 30 students. There are no requirements for enrollment in the program, except the number of volunteers available to teach.  Currently the program averages around 5-6 students on the waitlist. The program is run on a first-come-first-serve basis with returning students being given priority.

While volunteering for WOVEN looks great on a resume, it has an even greater impact on the children and their families. Tara Watson, Demarion Watson’s mother, said she is grateful for the program’s impact on her son’s life.

“We make sure to make it back every year,” Watson said. “(Demarion) is heavily involved with basketball at his school, but this program is just as important to him… Every year he has learned something different. It was fun to see him learn how to read sheet music this year.”

As the recital came to a conclusion, laughter and joy filled the small chapel as the students, their families, and the instructors enjoyed a snack together. It has been another successful season for WOVEN as the community comes together, united by a passion for music.

About the author: Teghan McCarthy