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New violin program in Houston’s 5th Ward inspires big dreams: ‘When I’m grown up, I could travel around the world’

The Houston Symphony and 5th Ward Cultural Arts District launched DeLUXE K!DS — a new program that teaches kids how to play violin and much more — this year.


Students in the new DeLUXE K!DS violin program perform on Dec. 1.


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Every weekday afternoon, the hallways of Houston ISD's Bruce Elementary fill with the sounds of children excited to get out of school.

But on a Wednesday afternoon in October, the day was far from over for about twenty students from Bruce and other 5th Ward schools.

They're part of DeLUXE K!DS — a new program that teaches kids how to play violin and much more.

The Houston Symphony, the AFA (American Festival for the Arts) and 5th Ward Cultural Arts District launched the program this year.

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"Sometimes music is thought about as a high art, and actually, when you’re working with kids, you can get to really important social skills through music," Houston Symphony Chief of Education and Community Engagement Pam Blaine explained. "And that’s kids who can do work in teams, who have self confidence, who are responsible for one another and empathic, who can persevere through hard situations. So, for us DeLUXE K!DS is about those social skills, which music excellence cultivates."

The kids rehearse three times a week — each session kicks off with an icebreaker of sorts. In one exercise, the students have to stop dancing when the music stops. It's harder than it sounds.

The program is more than music, diving into social emotional learning as well as cultural history and identity.

"Some of the activities that we’ll do will be to teach them about the history of Fifth Ward," said Harrison Guy, director of arts and culture for the 5th Ward Cultural Arts District. "I think it’s really important for young people to know what the community used to be like, what things that are no longer here — of course, because they can’t see them. So, there’s a lot of that in regards to place, and then identity — just doing activities that really talk about who they are culturally. Right now, it’s mixed between both Latin and Black students. And we want to make sure that the program is really centered around their cultural identity."

It's also an intense introduction to music. In the first rehearsals in October, the kids were already mastering the fundamentals of rhythm and how to read sheet music.

Students at Bruce Elementary Schooland other 5th Ward schools are part of DeLUXE K!DS, a program that teaches children how to play the violin.

"I think the intensity is what's really important because often what happens with art programs is it’s a community-based program that’s not very intense," Guy said. "Or it’s an intense program that’s not very community-based. And I think this program marries the two."

As the group learns basic rhythms, student Samaaj Higgins is focused, with a laser-eyed stare at the music notations on the board.

He couldn't choose a favorite part of rehearsal.

"Not really but I like them all," he said.

But he does have a favorite song — We Are Family, adapted for the young violin ensemble from the original by Sledge Sister. DeLUXE K!DS performed the classic at their December concerts.

Jewel Maddox is the grandmother of one of the students. She went to school at Dogan Elementary, which is also in the 5th Ward.

She eventually learned to play cello and has been involved in arts organizing and fundraising. She said she's never seen anything quite like this program.

"In the schools, no, I have not seen a program like this," she said. "I remember when I was a kid, and we had a field trip to the opera. And we just thought that was the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world. But that was that one time 1,000 years ago when I was in elementary school ... I’ll never forget it."

The DeLUXE K!DS group recently made a similar field trip to the Houston Symphony.

"It was exquisite," Maddox said. "It was wonderful. It was a salute to Black composers. So they were able to hear Scott Joplin, even Jimi Hendrix, and various other composers. But the most exciting thing about it was their teacher, Mr. J, was the featured soloist. So they got a chance to actually see him in action. And that was just awesome."

At that point, I think I was the teacher for a week or so," said Mr. J, also known as Rainel Joubert. He's a community-embedded musician for the Houston Symphony

"To see me in the classroom, and to see me in front of the orchestra soloing with the Houston Symphony, it was a big shock of course, and they had a lot to talk about," he recalled. "‘Oh, you were amazing,' and ‘I couldn’t believe that you could play that fast,' so it was definitely encouraging for them."

He understands the importance of having a good teacher. His journey to the stage started with a violin instructor in Cuba.

"The one that put the violin in my hands. She’s still in Cuba, working with kids," Joubert said. "She was like a mom. She would take you and embrace you and your life and your problems. And you just became her son.

"I remember one time I didn’t want to do competitions because if I do competitions, I don’t get summers. But she went to my house — she cared that much — and she was like, ‘Come on, let’s go,' and she took me under her wings all summer in her house. She would cook for me. So, it was that type of teacher."

He may already have been that type of teacher for one student — Savanna Camacho.

"I might teach my kids violin, so they can teach their kids if they want to," she predicted.

She has lots of big plans.

"I think I might, when I’m grown up, I could travel around the world playing violin music," she said.

Years from now, attendees of the December 1, 2022 concert at Deluxe Theatre in Houston's 5th Ward will be able to say they knew violinist Savana Camacho before she became a household name.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh

Education & Families Reporter

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers education & families for Houston Public Media's enterprise team. His work examines the institutions and policies affecting millions of students and families across Texas, with a focus on Houston — home to the largest school district in the state. He comes to the Bayou City after...

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