Joint university music program builds confident kids

Violinist Kathryn Knecht, faculty director for Community Kids Connection-Music and Loma Linda University pharmacology professor leads a group of youngsters in beginner violin lessons.
Violinist Kathryn Knecht, faculty director for Community Kids Connection-Music and Loma Linda University pharmacology professor leads a group of youngsters in beginner violin lessons.

September 2, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( When not playing at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this summer or performing with the Festival Mozaic Orchestra in San Luis Obispo, violinist Jason Uyeyama utilized his talents in a very different venue.

In between rehearsals and performances with top professional groups, he drove to a community clinic campus on 3rd Street in San Bernardino located along the edges of a defunct Air Force base. There, in a large, red trailer, he provided free violin lessons for San Bernardino children who might otherwise never be able to study music.

Uyeyama, La Sierra University’s director of string studies and a graduate of New York’s famed Julliard School of Music, is co-founder of Community Kids Connection-Music, or CKC. The program is an educational outreach endeavor for neighborhoods near the former Norton Air Force Base which sprawls across Interstate 10 from Loma Linda University. He and Kathryn Knecht, a violinist and associate professor of pharmacology at Loma Linda University established Community Kids Connection in 2008. Knecht serves as CKC’s faculty director and Uyeyama is music director of the program. Students from both universities and from the local community serve as mentors for the children.

Community Kids Connection is entering its fourth season offering free violin, viola, cello, piano and guitar lessons and performance experiences for children in kindergarten through high school. Lessons and rehearsals are held in two red trailers on the campus of the Social Action Community Health System, a clinic program of Loma Linda University and the site of several Community Kids Connection mentoring and tutoring programs.

Uyeyama, Knecht and three mentors instruct the students in 90-minute sessions once a week with beginners in group lessons in one trailer and more advanced students studying in the adjacent trailer in individual lessons. The CKC program gets fully underway in October and runs through the school year. Biweekly lessons are offered during the summer months and are usually attended by a smaller number of students.

On Aug. 10, in one of the red trailers several advanced CKC students studied one-on-one with their mentors and tutors, their music stands set up next to tables filled with bags of food for distribution to those in need. High school freshman and budding violinist Magaly Bonala worked diligently on passages of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” for string quartet. Uyeyama watched and provided instruction, sometimes playing his own violin to demonstrate proper technique.

Uyeyama says he has witnessed CKC students become more responsible, more confident and more productive. “I’m not only concerned about their playing, I’m concerned about their grades and the other things they’re doing,” he said. “I try to build confidence in their playing. When students participate in a group they often discover they have more ability than they thought.”

La Sierra University violin student Alexander Knecht helps CKC student George Baeza learn his music.
La Sierra University violin student Alexander Knecht helps CKC student George Baeza learn his music.


For the Clark family, Community Kids Connection proved a godsend. When Edelina Clark, her husband and two children arrived in California a year ago from Montemorelos, Mexico, Clark wasn’t sure she could continue her son’s violin lessons.

“We have no money to pay for classes,” she said. Clark does not work and her husband is a university student. But Community Kids Connection filled the void. Both the couple’s children, Harold Gonzales Clark, age 13, and Melissa Gonzales Clark, age 10, now study violin and piano for free, respectively, with Harold building upon five or six years of lessons he took in Mexico. Melissa also recently took up the viola. “Kathryn invited me here and it has been such a blessing for my family,” Edelina Clark said. “I’m very thankful.”

Knecht performs in local churches with her children who all play stringed instruments and who mentor CKC students. She is also a viola coach for the Claremont Youth Symphony Orchestra. The Knecht children are Alexander Knecht, age 20, and a violin student at La Sierra University studying with Uyeyama; Maria Knecht, age 16, a violinist, violist and vocalist; Talia Knecht, age 13, violinist; and Anselm Knecht, age 10, cellist.

At La Sierra Uyeyama teaches violin, viola, and chamber music. In addition to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Uyeyama plays with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra and other professional groups, and appears in major festivals in Aspen, Colo., Taos, N.M. and the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass.

The CKC program started out with nine children when it kicked off on Oct. 8, 2008. It grew to an average of 49 children per session during this past year. During 2010-2011, students gave 11 public performances at the Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, the SACHS Neighborhood Health Fair, Loma Linda Medical Center’s East Campus Hospital and elsewhere.

This year, Community Kids Connection has 79 students enrolled with a waiting list of more than 30 children. The students play instruments purchased with donated funds, although some instruments have been given to the program. The children’s families pay a deposit when lessons begin. The money is refunded when they return the instrument upon leaving the program. The children may also take piano lessons on pianos and keyboards available in one of the trailers.

About 95% of the students and their families are Hispanic and Spanish is often their first language. “My Spanish has gone from non-existent to really minimal, which I guess is an improvement,” Knecht joked.

Community Kids Connection’s goals, in addition to providing musical education with its confidence-building benefits, include introducing students to the health sciences. Program leaders have taken students on field trips to chamber music concerts in Redlands and at La Sierra University, and to the Loma Linda University medical simulation center and the university’s School of Pharmacy.

La Sierra University Director of String Studies Jason Uyeyama instructs CKC student Magaly Bonala.
La Sierra University Director of String Studies Jason Uyeyama instructs CKC student Magaly Bonala.


On Aug. 10, in one of the red trailers Yadhira Mejia, age six, sat on a metal folding chair next to her pony-tailed pal, Gabriella Rodriguez, also age six. They are part of Knecht’s beginner violin class and have been learning to play their pint-sized violins for two months. Mejia said she has two favorite songs: “Mary had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Rodriguez says she likes violin “a lot. …I like it because I play with my friend.”

Three boys sat nearby, striving to focus on practicing a piece of music with their violins. One boy, Bryan Baeza, age six, is a beginning violin student, one of three boys in his family studying in the CKC program. Their father, Raul Baeza, plays guitar with his oldest son and violinist Juan Baeza in the eight-member mariachi band Victoria Mariachi. Raul Baeza founded the group. Juan Baeza joined the CKC program three years ago so he could learn to read music, a requirement for joining the long-established San Bernardino mariachi band, Sinfonia Mexicana. Juan is now a member that band as well.

“The program has benefitted my son a lot,” said Raul Baeza of his eldest child. The senior Baeza also became involved in the CKC program as a volunteer, cleaning practice rooms, locking up after lesson sessions and answering other parents’ questions.

Knecht, who has played violin since she was seven years old, loves seeing the children’s skills grow, she said. “Having little ones play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ for the first time, or seeing fidgety kids who never settle down [get up] on stage performing and focused the whole time is really special,” said Knecht. “I love the children’s confidence when they come to performances and know what to expect and where to go.”

CKC’s budget this year is $6,000, funded through a grant, and will be used to pay for music, folders, storage supplies and field trips. The directors plan to continue to raise money through benefit concerts and additional grant applications.

“It’s a blessing to see God providing for us week by week with the right people, the right supplies,” Knecht said.

Click here to see more pictures from this event.


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)


  • Last update on  September 02, 2011