Student Spotlight: Ryan Kang '23
November 11, 2022
Throughout his childhood, Ryan K. ’23 took classical piano lessons. He was quite an accomplished classical pianist when he discovered Jazz as a 9th grader in Athenian’s Advanced Ensemble and Jazz Combo class. Jazz and improv spoke to Ryan in a way classical music never had. Unfortunately, in March of 2020, his first year as a member of the Jazz Combo, was cut short. Music, especially an ensemble involving wind instruments was out of the question in the early days of the pandemic. Outside of Athenian, students were feeling the loss of music too as many private lessons and school music programs were put on hold.
That summer, COVID restrictions continued. Never one to sit still, Ryan enrolled in a youth entrepreneurship program. Listening to family friends lament about the loss of their children’s music lessons during COVID, he came up with the idea of providing online music lessons that he then parlayed into his summer program project. This project blossomed into what Ryan fittingly named Meaning in Music, a program that brings music lessons to elementary school-age students online and free of charge. Now, two years in, Meaning in Music is a registered LLC and in process of becoming a fiscally-sponsored nonprofit.
The organization is run by more than 20 volunteers–all Athenian students–with Ryan serving as the “executive director,” coordinating lessons, doing intake interviews with prospective students and families, and forming partnerships to bring music to students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to music lessons. “Once we formalize our partnership with a fiscal sponsor [Oakland Fund for Music], we’ll be able to connect with elementary schools in Oakland,” says Ryan. Up until this point, most of the students have come through parent Facebook groups and word of mouth. In fact, on the very first day of advertising the program in the summer of 2020, Ryan got 20 responses within the first few days of the Facebook post. “We want to reach more students,” says Ryan, and he thinks Meaning in Music fulfills a very specific and unmet need. “The program has been so successful because it focuses on connecting students to music they enjoy and teachers they can relate to,” explains Ryan. Ryan credits Athenian and music teacher Nora Free for igniting what he knows will be his lifelong love of music.
Ryan estimates they’ve provided 800 hours of lessons. His Athenian classmates and fellow volunteer music instructors have taught piano, vocal, drum, saxophone, guitar, and even ukulele lessons. Katie ’24, has been a Meaning in Music volunteer–flute instructor–since the start of the program. She is quick to point out that she has gained as much as she’s given through this experience. “It has been one of the most rewarding service experiences that I’ve ever had…I think working with kids, especially elementary schoolers, teaches you a lot about yourself. Genuinely, I don’t think people, especially high-schoolers, realize how much there is to learn from kids because we assume we already know it all, having just grown up ourselves.”
Ryan is the first to acknowledge how much founding Meaning in Music has given him too. “I’ve learned something every step of the way; from building a website, marketing, interacting with students and their parents, and the process of forming a business or 501(c)3 nonprofit.“ He is committed to keeping the organization going next year when he goes off to college, and is already transition planning. Ryan is confident that the 10th and 11th graders involved in the program now, will be ready to step up and take the lead on the running the organization. As for his own involvement, Ryan plans to stay involved with what he considers the most rewarding part of the experience–sharing his love of music with kids.