Afterschool Program Uses ‘Universal Language’ Of Music To Educate Students

Robert Levine III says he recognized at a young age that music could help people express themselves in a way they otherwise could not.

Levine, the founding executive director of the Baltimore nonprofit, Beyond the Natural Foundation (BTNF), says music connects emotions and fosters bonds that can strengthen and motivate young people.

“Music is a universal language. I believe that in every facet of our lives, music plays an integral role,” Levine said.

BTNF uses music education in after-school programs to engage and empower students from Edmonson-Westside, Mergenthaler Vocational Technical and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools.

BTNF programs, which serve about 500 students each year, are also held at various recreation and community centers in and around Baltimore.

“Students are learning the art of songwriting, production, and audio engineering as a platform for positive self- expression and promoting campaigns like anti-bullying and anti-violence,” Levine said.

BTNF believes arts education is an essential part of achieving success in school, work, and life. Arts engagement has a profound impact on unlocking the creativity needed for future generations of innovators.

Levine says expressive art methods of pure skill and focused sensitivity enhance one’s capacity for sharing thoughts, feelings, and experience. In this way, youth come to know themselves on a deeper level and they also become aware of their impact on those around them and allow them to encounter their world with compassion and presence.

The overall goal is to use music therapy to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation.

The students have responded, Levine said.

The lead single from one of this year’s project is a song written, recorded and produced by students called “Group Chat."

“The song inspires peers to use technology in a positive way,” Levine said.

“I can honestly say, I had nothing to do with that.” Levine said. “They came up with that. We like to give them the autonomy to make decisions about what they create, but the song itself is about kids. You know, nowadays, they communicate primarily through social media and texting.

“It's a song about promoting a positive environment. Making sure that kids aren't using that platform to bully other kids, and making them feel bad in any way. They are responsible for the primary form of communication nowadays. So it's really cool to see them take ownership and have fun with creating such a positive message.”

BTNF serves at-risk youth by engaging them in music education and performance to provide expressive therapy and inspiration for creating more significant life opportunities. As an organization, Levine says the goal is to be at the forefront of providing musical arts enrichment and music therapy for the youth of our communities.

The nonprofit provides hands-on education in the art of songwriting, producing, audio engineering, and musicianship while utilizing basic music curriculums and state-of-the-art equipment via BTNF’s flagship onsite program Music for F.U.N. — or Fundamental Understanding of Notes— and The E.A.R. Arts Institute.

“As a kid growing up, it was all about music for me, and the great music that my parents used to listen to,” Levine said. “I’ve been doing music all of my life in some way. So, if our students walk away from our program with creativity, collaboration, commitment, and community, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do.”

For more information, visit wwww.beyondthenatural.org.