Teaching growth, freedom and dignity with music, local musician Elias Toscano helps support kids of all needs.
Music is in Elias Toscano’s blood. It’s like the rhythmic beat of a heart. From a young age, he understood the value of it in his own life and it’s a gift he likes to pass on.
The long-time professional jazz drummer, producer and music teacher says music is of elemental importance to kids’ lives. “It’s a limbic, reptilian-brain thing. There was music in heaven before God created mankind.”
Musically his goal is to “imprint” on kids rather than teach them, because “the idea is nothing arouses emotion like good music. When you’re making it yourself, it really gets in there. That’s when it gets imbedded in you. And then, when you improvise, it comes out in new combinations. That’s what musical imprinting is.”
He and Trinity Institute of Music and Arts have put together a 36-week music course called RYTMO—Reaching Youth Through Music Opportunities—designed to give young students a crash course in music making in the digital age.
For two hours after school every Thursday, kids get music history, music theory, performance techniques and vocal exploration, commercial songwriting and digital recording, music technology, live audio engineering, the business of music and project development.
It’s a project Toscano has been helping to develop for years as part of an advisory board of people he’s met and worked with during the course of his career. While both his lessons at Adam’s Music Studio in Orange and RYTMO are open to all young students, Toscano specializes in teaching special needs and at-risk kids.
“What everybody involved understands, and many have experience with, is that ‘special needs’ can be a very gray area, mostly treated in public schools with medication,” he says. “We have a larger vision. Music is the pied piper and is an effective therapy for a lot of borderline kids that need a means of personal expression, a little TLC, and a break. My long and chequered career has provided me with extensive experience in all the salient arenas, enabling me to connect the dots and network talented people with generous hearts.
“There’s always an inclination to help low-income, at-risk kids, because dedicated music teachers don’t do it for money,” Toscano says. “You could learn music technically, by rote, and we call that arts and crafts, but when you have a teacher who is also a mentor, you teach them life skills. You’re molding them into a mature adult.”
Toscano’s youngest pupil is just two years old. But he works with all ages. And RYTMO has been so successful (more than 3,500 students have gone through the program) he says he’s even had members of rival gangs working together on music projects.
RYTMO consists of four comprehensive classes that each run nine weeks. With breaks between the classes and holidays, the program takes approximately a year to complete. Tuition is $1,600 for the four full courses, but half and full scholarships are available for students from low-income households. Several of the program grads have received scholarships to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
He says being affiliated with Berklee “gives us access to a multi-million dollar online music school for high-schoolers with a curriculum specifically designed for learning-challenged, low-income, at-risk kids.”
Toscano and the advisory board hope to soon expand the program and give it a permanent home at the Cornerstone Academy of Performing Arts at Cornerstone Church in Anaheim, and with it, a way to reach more kids with music.
“The church provides outreach and support for special needs kids as well as other K-12 children,” Toscano says. “Low-income and at-risk kids will also be in the mix as they have their share of ADD/ADHD and learning challenges—many without a diagnosis. We intend to integrate and cross-pollinate our programs.”
What music instills in young students of all abilities, Toscano says, is universal, “You can’t fake it, you have to be disciplined to learn an instrument, you have to be motivated, you have to be willing to sacrifice having fun because it takes a while to get really good and it builds something beyond a work ethic because it’s an art not a science. And then when you get with other musicians, it’s incredibly bonding. It’s incredibly addictive.”
For lessons or questions go to timaforkidz.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 714-488-6023.
By Shawn Price