By Paul Nguyen, Grace Davis, Jaclyn Fan
Published February 8, 2022
Giving Back to Southeast High School
In August of 2021, Live Life Music was able to come together with OCU and many other sponsors and partners to host Live Life Music Fest. The event was so much fun and a wonderful learning experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed giving a voice to so many up-and-coming artists from different walks of life. Now, the impact of Live Life Music Fest can be seen at Southeast High School.
Here at Live Life Music, our mission is to give back to underserved music communities and raise awareness of inequities within the music community. We felt that the best way to carry out our mission would be to find a school whose music program was in need and donate 100% of the proceeds from Live Life Music Fest directly back to them. Upon speaking to Maya Johnson, Southeast High School’s band and orchestra director, we heard the story of an extremely talented, caring, and driven woman who paved the way for minorities in her community. We saw the impact that our donation could make through her and her dedication towards the students at Southeast, and so we began to put in the work to present Maya and her students with the check of $10,533 raised from Live Life Music fest.
Finally, after many months of working out details and double-checking with Southeast High School’s principal, we were able to visit Southeast High School and speak to Maya and her orchestra students on January 28, 2022. Upon arriving at the school, we received a warm welcome from Maya and an orchestra student, and we were led back to their orchestra room where her full classroom of students greeted us. After talking to some of the students, her orchestra played multiple pieces for the board from their lesson books and even one of their concert pieces. We are so grateful towards them for their hard work in preparing this music. After some witty banter between Maya and her students, we were able to interview some of her students as well as Maya herself, which are included below. We were so incredibly impressed by the kindness, dedication, and genuineness in Maya and her students, and we feel so fortunate to be able to share their voices with you.
As for how Live Life Music’s donation will impact Southeast, Maya says that she looks forward to using the funds to fix the program’s instruments. This will free up more time for her to work with her students, as her class periods are usually less than 45 minutes with 15-20 minutes spent each day fixing broken strings, bridges, and any other problems due to the lack of temperature control in the room. We also asked her how music inspired her and how she plans to spread that inspiration to her students. She answered that it brought her closer to people throughout high school and college, and she then went on to earn two music degrees after! Maya says that music was always a constant in her childhood. It helped her regulate her emotions and was comforting in her life when things became unpredictable. She told us that the Southeast kids are her whole life, and she wants them to be able to utilize music the same way she did. Maya says that the donation will help give her students more opportunities because they can spend more time practicing and learning without instrument maintenance being an issue. She believes it will open more doors to play more challenging pieces and learn harder techniques so Southeast can compete with other schools and have an equitable experience. Lastly, she shares that she sees Live Life Music as a great organization and loves seeing Live Life Music giving back to a community that has given us so much. Most importantly, Ms. Johnson points out that it is very important to her to give BIPOC students representation and the opportunity to see themselves in the classical music world.
Members of our board mentioned that it has been rare to see a woman of color such as Ms. Johnson in a director’s position in the musical community, and Live Life Music constantly heard from students in Oklahoma that Southeast’s program was driven and accommodating for all students, no matter their skill level. Maya responded that it is always all about the students and giving them what they need and the opportunity to strive in music.
Our student interviews began with Isaac Borders, a high school junior and cello player. During our time with Isaac, we couldn’t help but be impressed by his multifaceted talent in music, photography, and his kind demeanor. When asked how our donation would impact him here at Southeast High School, Isaac told us that he looked forward to seeing the funds allocated to repair and better the quality of the school’s instruments. We then asked him what inspired him, and he responded with music, more specifically percussion, producing, and learning the guitar and piano. Finally, we asked him what his experience with Ms. Johnson was like and he responded by saying she was funny and a “hater” (stated with the utmost affection) - which he, Maya, and all the other students laughed at.
Next, we talked to Angel Martinez, a freshman violist at Southeast. During the interview, Angel mentioned the impact of our donation to their orchestra, emphasizing once again that most of their class time is spent fixing and tuning their instruments. “Bridges of violas and violins constantly fall off during class,” he said, “and strings consistently snap.” Angel’s favorite thing about music is how he can rely on it as an escape. He also brought up that when he feels stressed, he turns to viola to take his mind off of life, simply focusing on a new music piece. In all, his experience with his orchestra community and Director Johnson has been uplifting. He says, “She is always supportive and kind. With any problems we have, Ms. Johnson tries to help us out.” He enjoys orchestra as a passion and for its nurturing, safe community.
We then interviewed Timothy Park, a freshman cellist. When asked what is special about the Southeast program, Timothy’s answer was the friends he made; he mentioned his friend Angel, whom we also interviewed, and spoke about how they both chose to take orchestra in 7th grade so they could play music together. He also said that he thought our donation towards Southeast would help the orchestra progress faster and conserve time typically wasted on tuning and fixing instruments. Finally, we asked him about his experiences with Ms. Johnson, and he relayed nothing but positive experiences with her. He told us that Maya was a great director who paid great attention to detail and gave each of her students the individual attention that they required to succeed. Upon leaving the school, we saw Timothy playing his guitar outside of the school with his friends gathered around him, and we couldn’t help but feel touched by this display of community that music created.
The experience Live Life Music shared with Southeast was nothing short of life-changing. From the instruments to the bond shared between director and musicians, nothing can put into words the feeling our board shared throughout this journey. We thank Southeast High School for spending time with us, and we couldn’t be more happy to give back to their orchestra program.
Thank you to Southeast for hosting us, and thank you to you, for making all of this possible.