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Arts & Culture

Low-Cost Lessons Raise Musical Bar for Local Teens

Terrapin Community Music School Matches Grad Students With Youths to Expand Access

By Sala Levin ’10

two people play bass violins in a classroom

DuVal High School sophomore Conor Rammelsberg receives a bass lesson from Britney Hansford ’26, a bass performance and music education major, at The Clarice as part of the Terrapin Community Music School program.

Photo by Jess Daninhirsch '26

The steady, percussive clacking reverberating from a classroom in The Clarice has the drive and precision of a full drumline, with just a tiny fraction of the volume. “Give me one!” a voice calls out. “Give me two! Give me three! Break it down!”

That’s music education doctoral student Lauren McGinley, calling out instructions on a Sunday afternoon to a small group of teens, each standing behind a desk and tapping out a unified beat with a pair of drumsticks on the tops of their chairs.

This warmup exercise is a snippet of the Terrapin Community Music School: High School Academy (TCMS), a program the University of Maryland launched last fall to offer affordable music education to high school students in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Each week, students receive one-on-one lessons in their instrument from School of Music (SOM) graduate students, and amp up their experience with a group musicianship class, where McGinley leads discussions on theory, the emotional impact of songs and music history.

“I like how interactive it is,” said violinist Boyan Tiwang, a junior at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, Md. “The one-on-one lessons have really helped me improve as a musician, as well as the musicianship class. I’ve learned a lot about music theory that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

People drum on chairs backs
Youth musicians from Prince George's and Montgomery counties take a musicianship class with a UMD School of Music student during a session of the Terrapin Community Music School: High School Academy.

Led by Allison Durbin ’15, Ph.D. ’23, assistant clinical professor of music education, TCMS, funded by Arts for All and the School of Music, is an accessible alternative to often-pricey private music lessons. For $180, students receive 10 individual lessons, plus the weekly musicianship class. Forty percent of the 34 currently enrolled students get additional assistance from TCMS, and SOM’s Office of Community Engagement also partners with four Prince George’s high schools to entirely cover the enrollment fee. (TCMS also includes an early childhood program called the Hatchling Music Program; nearly 100 kids are enrolled there.)

“At the price point, you’re just not going to find this kind of experience and exposure anywhere, really,” said Cullen Waller, director of bands at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, who has sent a number of his students to TCMS.

Waller knows that not all his students will study music in college. But for those craving a more intense musical experience than what’s available at a typical high school, TCMS is a sample of instrumental education at a higher level.

In musicianship class, McGinley handed out sheet music for the Italian classic “Caro Mio Ben” and asked students to share what they noticed as they read through it. It’s in C major, one student said. There are a lot of chords, observed another. Then McGinley played a recording and asked how the music expresses longing. “It sounds like in a really bad love film, when there’s a musical part and they sing their hearts out,” one student said.

McGinley also played a very contemporary use of “Caro Mio Ben”—in “Daughter,” a song from Beyoncé’s new album. The students noted that this version was in a minor key (“it didn’t sound happy,” one said), and that it didn’t have the country twang they expected based on the public conversation about “Cowboy Carter.”

“I love being creative about what I’m going to teach that day,” said McGinley. In one assignment, she asked students to draw two words out of a hat and write a song including those words based on ukulele chords they’d been learning in class. One student later asked to sing his composition to her. “The outcome was amazing,"
she said. “It sounded like something that would’ve gone viral on TikTok.”

For Tiwang, who’s been playing violin since fourth grade, TCMS is a chance to deepen his love of the instrument that he was drawn to for its soul-soothing properties. “This definitely adds an advanced aspect,” he said. “It allows me to become a musician by myself instead of being a part of an orchestra.”

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