Santa Rosa Kids Offered Free Music Lessons in Wake of Fires

Students of the SoCo Music Coalition practicing. Ryan Woodard, 11, on guitar, Josh Rhoades, 16, on drums and Jane Rossi, 16, on vocals (Noelle Nicholson)

A new nonprofit in Sonoma County is providing free music lessons to children in Santa Rosa who were affected by the fire.

The SoCo Music Coalition will offer lessons through the month of November at its school in Santa Rosa. Normally the school's tuition is $55 a week.

Noelle Nicholson and Robb Ringwald started the nonprofit SoCo Music Coalition in September with the goal of providing music lessons to any interested child, "regardless of their circumstances." They also provide a instrument lending library so financial circumstances won't be an issue for their students.

The coalition focuses on teenagers and pre-teens (ages 8-17), providing them with music lessons as well as a community. The school uses a "band format" to teach their students how to play, having them form groups with other students -- the same system used by various Schools of Rock.

Nicholson says that their program can be therapeutic for teens having a hard time. Concentrating on a new skill, especially one that's artistic, can provide a distraction for kids who might need attention that parents can't provide.

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"I think their emotional needs can be easily overlooked during times like these," Nicholson said.

The coalition also lets students take the library's instruments home to practice, and to ensure what they're playing works for them.

"Kids might think they're guitar players but they're really drummers. That happens often and it's really frustrating for parents," Nicholson said.

The coalition hosts a fundraiser on Nov. 10 featuring the Seattle grunge godfathers Malfunkshun. Rossi said that if the show makes enough money, the coalition will extend the free music lessons beyond the month of November. To learn more about the program, visit the SoCo Music Coalition website.

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