“Soundscapes is a youth development organization that helps young people in our community develop skills to be successful, both in school today and for what comes in life beyond that,” says Carol Minter, executive director and co-leader of Soundscapes. “We work to contribute to the community in several ways. We offer daily after-school music programs in Newport News, we have our Peninsula Youth Organization for advanced students and we offer summer camps. It’s really important to us that the benefit of music is accessible to as many people as possible at no or low cost to participants.”
Soundscapes was envisioned by co-founders Anne Henry and Reynaldo Ramirez and in October 2009 began in Newport News with just 40 students. Today, the organization has worked with more than 1,800 students as it enters its 15th season. “Music is an amazing vehicle for social change,” says Ramirez, program director. “Students don’t spend time in other situations that might not be as productive. Instead we put instruments in their hands. Students can show off their artistry, and we make sure that we are serving students to the best of our ability.”
The Soundscapes team consists of more than 30 people, including teachers who are professional musicians working with students. These staff members come from throughout Hampton Roads and are teaching artists, meaning they teach students and work as active professional musicians. This allows the students to interact with actual musicians and see the possibility of being a full time artist.
Some students work for the organization as teaching assistants in classrooms. Several are paid for their performances, as a group of six students — top performers in the organization — are paid for their weekly rehearsals and gigs at events such as galas and weddings. This opportunity allows students to develop work skills, while the community observes these talented and hard-working students.
Ramirez says his favorite part of work comes back to the students. “It’s a very small thing, but I love watching a student prepare to go onstage. A light appears in them. They are excited, they feel supported, and the smiles they give light me up. I love that part of my job. And when there’s recognition of the work the students are doing, when community members get to see how hard our students are working, that means a lot. Music supporters are impressed and can see how much work has gone into each performance.”
Minter has similar feelings about her job and allowing the program to get recognition. “I feel it is a privilege to bring people to see our program and to give tours. I bring people in who don’t know what we do, and I show them what happens in the classroom and what we do with the community,” she says. “I then watch them learn and become a believer and supporter.
“Soundscapes is growing,” Minter continues. “We are working hard to prepare our program for more students. We need support from the community to make this happen, and there are a couple of things people can do. Following us on social media to learn about upcoming performances and coming to an event can be so helpful.”
Ramirez adds, “We are really going to make ourselves a community resource to those within the Oyster Pointer publication area. If anyone would like to book us for a performance, you can through our website. We love to play for events.”
When asked what they enjoy doing in their free time, Ramirez had a sentimental answer. “We have a saying that when you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. Most days feel that way for me. I play the French horn, so I love the power of music. When I leave work, I listen to symphony or jazz music and consider myself lucky that what I do in my off time is what I do professionally,” Ramirez says. “And a nice ribeye steak, I love eating steak.”
Minter chimed in: “I love anything outdoors such as hiking and anything active like yoga. When you love your job, it makes your life easier.”
Soundscapes is currently looking for space to create a hub to allow for further expansion, making the program more accessible for additional students. Ramirez encourages music enthusiasts and supporters of Soundscapes to follow performances on its website. “We invite everyone to come hear us and see lives changing,” he says.
TO THE POINT:
Address: 11009 Warwick Blvd., Ste. 215, Newport News, VA 23602
Contacts: Carol Minter, executive director; Reynaldo Ramirez, program director