Inner-City Kids Need Violins


The Sweet Strings program in South-Central Los Angeles is gearing up for its annual string instrument drive, which will run from Dec. 18 to Jan. 5. JANNISE JOHNSON spoke with Kika Keith, executive director of YECCA (Youth Empowerment for Creative Achievement), which runs the Sweet Strings program. Keith recognized the need in her community for a low-cost way to expose inner-city children to classical music.


I started the Sweet Strings program in March 1999. My daughter had expressed an interest in playing the violin after seeing Karen Briggs perform. My mom took my daughter to the Colburn School of Performing Arts to ask about getting lessons, and it was really expensive, not to mention far. The instructor expressed an interest in coming to the inner city to teach kids in the community and told my mom that if she found more kids and a space, he would come into the community and teach for free. That’s how the program got started.

Most of our instructors are volunteers. Some of them play in the L.A. Philharmonic or other orchestras. All of our classes are tuition-free. All the instruments are donated. We charge $10 a month for instrument maintenance. Right now we’re on a shoestring budget. For a while, our budget was my bank account. So the more instruments we can get donated, the more kids we can get going.


We have 250 kids on the waiting list to join our program. The thing that holds us back the most from bringing in all kids who are interested is the lack of instruments. They’re fairly expensive. A student violin costs $250 to $350. The more instruments we get, the more kids we can accept into the program.

They rarely have string instruments in inner-city schools. First, they’re some of the harder instruments to learn, and second, if inner-city schools have music programs, they’re usually bands. It’s drums and other band instruments. Our kids never get exposed to this whole other element of classical music. So we decided to take that on and give our kids something they are hardly ever exposed to.