Trumpets, Training, and Teamwork —That’s Music to My Ears

March 08, 2019

Emma Suttell, 16, is a high school sophomore from Phoenix, Arizona. She is an executive officer of Veterans Heritage Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, writing, and telling the stories of our nation’s veterans. Emma is an avid volunteer in her community, actively involved in children’s ministry and teaching children’s musical theatre programs. An aspiring journalism major, Emma is a student blogger and writer for several online and local publications and is especially passionate about encouraging fellow high school students throughout America to become leaders of awareness and acceptance in their own communities. In her free time, she enjoys performing with her show choir, playing piano, and blogging.

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Enter the “best-kept secret” in Phoenix, Arizona. Rosie’s House is a music academy for economically disadvantaged children, filled with faculty members that pour their hearts and souls into the education of each and every student, now in their 23rd year of operation.

The mission of Rosie’s House is to eliminate the barriers to high-quality music education. Through music, Rosie’s House supports youth in reaching their full creative and personal potential. Rosie’s House was started by Rosie Schurz, a German immigrant whose family fled Germany during WWII to find safety. When Rosie was forced to leave her violin behind at only 7 years old, she was absolutely heartbroken. She never forgot about her violin, and many years later, Rosie found herself in Phoenix, AZ, where she purchased a rundown house with her husband. Several members of the community came together to renovate the house and build it into a second home for children in the neighborhood to offer them a safe haven where they could develop their musical creativity and skill set.

The generous Phoenix community rallied around the project, and the program has since moved from a small house to several other locations, now being housed in a church for the last 11 years. Today, in 2018, nearly 500 students are enrolled, ranging in age from 5 to 18. Students range from those with no experience to years of experience, group classes, individual classes, instruments ranging from piano to cello.

Rosie’s House caters to underserviced, economically disadvantaged students. Several of the students attend schools with an underdeveloped or even absent music program. Music lessons can be expensive, and if a student participates in lessons only once a week, the tab can quickly add up. Each lesson is free, which makes the organization the largest fee-free afterschool music program in Arizona. All student instruments are loaned, allowing students to practice at home, not to mention an excess of mentorship opportunities. Older students can develop leadership and communication skills by acting as a teacher’s aide in a class for a younger age group. It’s a dually beneficial program — an older student learns how to lead and is inspired to share their love of music with younger generations, and the younger student has a role model to look up to.

Studies show the benefits of learning a musical instrument range far beyond simply the benefit of beautiful music filling a household. Children can pick up new skills quickly and apply them to other areas of life, something that Rosie’s House strives to instill in each of their students.

Rosie’s House connects achievement in music to achievement in life, taking every opportunity possible to teach their students how to connect skills learned in their classes to skills used outside of the classroom. Ingrained in the curriculum are lessons about life skills such as leadership, communication, creativity, confidence, and teamwork. The “Musicians Active in Community” program, for example, provides outreach programs for students, allowing them the opportunity to curate and perform small concerts at other locations, such as UMOM, numerous retirement communities, and Banner Medical Center.

“Our end goal,” said Alyson Hartsock, Advancement and Marketing Director, “is for our students to go onto secondary education and college.”

For the past five years, 97% of Rosie’s House students have attended college after high-school graduation. That’s in comparison to 50% of high school seniors in Phoenix who enroll in college. Not only does Rosie’s House encourage students to pursue a college education, but staff members at Rosie’s House provide college readiness tools to their students, supporting them along every step of the way. Many students at Rosie’s House are first-generation college students. Staff members guide students who are perhaps wondering how to navigate the Common Application or apply to FAFSA, and provide them with a clear path on how and when to apply to college.

It’s not only the staff and students that make Rosie’s House what it is but the environment, too. “What kindness means to us is inclusiveness,” Hartsock said. “That is really one of our main values; all things like inclusiveness, access, and community. We work together as a team here; we have students coming from all corners of the Phoenix Metro area, so we encourage students to be thoughtful with each other and work as a team together.”

Rosie’s House puts on over 60 concerts per year, of which most are free and open to the public to experience. Each student is required to perform in one recital per semester to further develop their confidence and performance skills. There are also specialized events, such as galas, holiday concerts, an advanced student showcase, and faculty performances scattered throughout the year. Hartsock recommends that anyone attend a concert to come see what Rosie’s House students have been able to achieve. The improvement and development always leave each and every audience in awe.

Alyson Hartsock has seen it firsthand. She’s been with Rosie’s House for over a year, working as the Advancement and Marketing Director. As a child, Hartsock was fortunate to be part of a music program that heavily influenced her life and shaped who she has become. Giving back is what inspires her to work with Rosie’s House.

“I believe [music] guided me through my life’s successes,” she noted, “I think it’s absolutely important to be able to give back and make sure that other young people have the exact same access regardless of where they live or their economic situation.”

Walking through the classrooms, Hartsock sees a light in every student’s eyes, a spark when they make a new connection, learn a new skill, or finally play a song that they’ve been working on for weeks.

“It’s truly an honor to do this work.”

You can find out more about Rosie’s House and their mission by visiting their website, or by following them on social media @RosiesHouse.


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