Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri kids are learning to rock with the new music program Beat Makers.
Program leader Ryan Willoughby, a youth development professional for the club, encourages his students ages 10 to 13 to express their passion for creativity and music.
Willoughby’s program first got its footing in 2013 as a talent show. His site manager at Sedalia Middle School, Vicki Hart, encouraged him and other staff members to start clubs based on their strengths or interests. Although Willoughby does not have any professional training in music, he is an alumnus of Smith-Cotton High School’s New Score Singers show choir. With that in mind, Willoughby thought it would be great to start a music or show choir program for club kids.
The program has expanded from its talent show days in 2013, and the choir now has about a dozen members. The program is open to anyone who wants to join with no auditions and no fees. The students must keep their grades at a C or higher, and are expected to have their homework completed before rehearsal, from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Wednesdays.
Since Beat Makers is not a competitive choir, it can be considered more of a learning experience for the students as well as a fun extracurricular activity. Last year the students performed at the Sedalia Senior Center and as part of club service projects.
“I hope that my students will gain a passion for music, a passion for being creative and being comfortable, and confident enough to express it,” Willoughby said, adding that he hopes they can learn life lessons from the music they are singing.
This year’s music focuses on being confident and the willingness to accept diversity. Willoughby talked about how daring it is to stand in front of a crowd and perform. He hopes Beat Makers and other Boys & Girls Club programs will teach his students to be confident and comfortable with themselves.
Arantza Heredia, a sixth grader at Smith-Cotton Junior High School, praised the program. She said singing to people is a cool feeling and that the program can be a good way to become more responsible, to get yourself “out there” musically and is a fun addition to the many things she likes to do outside of school.
“I really like singing,” she said. “I like to participate in everything. My mom says time is life and if you waste time, you waste life.”
Willoughby pushes his students to be the best that they can be and to give the best performance they can.
“Mr. Ryan is fun, but he takes things really seriously,” Heredia said.
Even a high school student is involved with the program. Krysten Cunningham, a junior at Smith-Cotton High School, is the choreographer for the group. Cunningham has been in show choir for seven years, starting in Showstoppers at SMS then moving on to Soundsation and Broadway Velocity at the junior high and now Cabaret at the high school. Willoughby reached out to Smith-Cotton’s show choirs looking for students willing to spend some time working with the club kids.
“I think this is a great opportunity, being able to introduce the kids to music and show choir at a younger age,” Cunningham said.
Rookie Reporter Olivia Smith is a student at Smith-Cotton High School.