Eighteen months ago Major Heath Sells started a music program at the Salvation Army in Peoria. Over fifty kids from 1st grade to high school have been able to learn how to read music and play instruments, for free.The Academy of Performing Arts at the Salvation Army goes beyond music. Sells said the kids learn valuable lessons in discipline, confidence, and focus. “We just wanted to give children, expose them to an opportunity to learn music. Once they latch on and see the disciplines that they gain through music education it helps them with their reading, it helps them with their math, it helps with their focus. But all of them have that same story that music touches and speaks to their soul,” explained Sells.
Thursday the week-long program commenced with a mini-concert at the Corps Community Center. Thirty-one students, some who had never played an instrument, performed in front of friends and family. They played songs from ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to ‘Baby Shark’ to Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise.’
Soon to be sixth grader Fernando Avalos has played piano for less than a year. He said learning to play music is more than just learning a skill. “If you’re stressed or mad or something it helps you calm down. It helps you be a greater person and make another persons day when you’re playing for them,” he explained. Another benefit from learning music, his focus at school. “In math, I had like low grades and since I started playing the piano I went up surprisingly like a lot and I made the honor roll,” said Avalos.
Other students played guitar, trumpet, drums, and piano. One student even conducted the final two pieces. The academy, at it’s core, is aimed at those kids that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford music lessons. “We want to make sure the academy is as barrier free as possible,” explained Maj. Heath Sells. “Our target audience really has been the students that are underserved, underprivileged within the area. Children who outside of this program wouldn’t have access to free music lessons,” said Sells. The entire program runs at zero cost to the students, including instruments. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost the Salvation Army. We’ve invested over $100,000 in instruments and instructor time,” explained Sells.
The program is funded through donations around the holidays. Sells said if anyone would like to help make donations or get involved with the program, they can reach out to the Salvation Army at their website https://centralusa.salvationarmy.org/peoria/.