It was a moment that, at the time, seemed innocent enough.
A 9-year-old and his friends try to pick out a rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano. A retired music teacher assisting at a church’s after-school study program overhears.
The music teacher, Harriet Pennekamp, asks the boy, Dante Millet, if he would like to take piano lessons. With that, retirement ends, an after-school music program debuts and a boy’s musical journey begins.
The program, Resurrection’s major special ministry serving its community, currently teaches music to 41 students whose $10 lessons lighten the load of parents who can’t afford private lessons.
Diversity is the commonality; the students represent four continents and 12 countries. (Nearly half of the members themselves are African immigrants.)
Funding is catch as catch can. The ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod’s Warner Trust awarded the program a grant in 2009 and Harriet recently organized two fundraisers. The patchwork funding helps keep the waiting list short and also provides for instrument repairs and sheet music.
A servant’s heart
Harriet invests her time to create opportunities for her students.
“Harriet has a servant heart, a teacher’s dedication, and a faith that takes seriously Jesus’ call to welcome the children,” says Lucy Kolin, Resurrection’s pastor.
“(Harriet) sees in every child a person of value. She loves to introduce them to the world of music and to a future of hope and possibility: God’s dream for every child of Earth.”
Dante’s piano lessons led to cello lessons a year later, when a cello was donated to the program. That’s when Dante really started to make music.
In ninth grade, under Harriet’s guidance, he was accepted to the Oakland School for the Arts. His cello lessons with Harriet ended but only to make room for another opportunity. During his sophomore, junior and senior years, Dante also participated in the Young Musicians Program at the University of California, Berkeley. Young Musicians provides full scholarships to musically gifted students who cannot afford the training needed.
Paying it forward
Now 21, Dante majors in computer engineering and minors in music at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward.
Dante credits Harriet with teaching him effective study habits, discipline and the value of hard work.
“She was very patient and listened,” he says. “She’s very giving.”
That’s why Dante and his cello gave back by playing at one of the recent program fundraisers. “The (program) is a great opportunity. It teaches you to be successful,” he says.
When asked what he loved about the After-School Music Program, Dante talks about being with other children and — by the way — the music.
“I loved being with the kids, the teachers and the tutors,” he says. “We did our homework, then we had time for recreation, then we had our music lessons.”
“We make a community out of our group,” Harriet concurs. “The kids get to know each other. They’ll never forget being together.”
Or how the sound of music changes lives.