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Pianos in the Parks lets everybody tickle the ivories

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© Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS Thaddeus Tukes teaches piano lessons to Mykiya Bradley, right, 9, and Kadariyon Leon, 9, left, as part of the Pianos in the Parks program, featured at five parks throughout Chicago this summer, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, at Jackson Park in…

By Savannah Eadens, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO

"Ya'll ready to jam?"

Outside the Jackson Park field house, children squeeze between an upright piano and its accompanying bench for a chance to unabashedly pound their fingers across the keys and peek into the inner workings of the instrument's opened top, where the pedals and hammers are exposed to the summer day.

[post_ads]"You got your music juices flowing? Do you feel it in your soul?" asks piano teacher Thaddeus Tukes as he attempts to corral the children from Jackson Park's summer camp. Before beginning the lesson, he allows the kids to punch the keys, so they can "let it all out."

By the end of the kids' 10 minutes with Tukes, he says, "Ya'll are piano players now."

Jackson Park is the newest addition to Pianos in the Parks, a program curated by the International Music Foundation's Make Music Chicago and the Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks initiatives. The partnership, which places pianos in five parks across Chicago, is in its fourth summer. But this is the first year musicians like Tukes have been commissioned to teach piano lessons at the parks once a week.

The initial vision for the program was to build community engagement in local parks and get musicians outdoors to play a piano, an instrument usually relegated to the indoors, says Kuang-Hao Huang, the artistic director for Make Music Chicago.

At Jackson Park, the new piano has been a hit with the more than 175 kids at summer camp. Tukes comes once a week for an hour to teach children from all over Chicago's South Side.

"A lot of these kids do not have access to pianos, so for a lot of them this is their first time being exposed to the instrument," says Louise McCurry, president of Jackson Park Advisory Council. "These kids will walk away from their 10-minute lesson calling themselves a piano player."

McCurry suggested opening the back of the piano to get the kids interested in how a piano functions. After her lesson with Tukes, summer camp student Mykiya Bradley, 9, silently points to the hammers inside the piano when she's asked her favorite part of the brief lesson.

Tukes, a 24-year-old jazz musician and vibraphone artist, grew up near Jackson Park and wants the neighborhood children to be exposed to music just as he was. When he was 5 years old, Tukes' grandmother grew tired of him banging on her piano and enrolled him in piano lessons. Tukes went on to study music at Northwestern University, graduating in 2016, and now plays in a local jazz band in addition to teaching private lessons at Kenwood Academy and St. Benedict Preparatory School.

"I don't like to think of it as giving back to my community because that would mean I took something in the first place, but I do think that I am helping young people here gain cultural access and exposure that they otherwise would not have had," Tukes says. "I am trying to inspire them in a way that I was inspired at their age by people like me."

In Chicago, an hourlong piano lesson ranges from $30-$120 depending on the teacher, type of lesson and location. For kids whose families cannot afford lessons, or who attend public schools where music programs have been cut, even 10 minutes at a piano can plant the seeds of music appreciation.
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Tukes came into this new job with a list of songs he was hoping the children would be able to play by the end of the summer, but he soon realized the limitations of the program format. Instead he lists three rules for the kids to follow before improvising chords, melodies and baselines, which are:

"Watch where I put my fingers, put your fingers in a similar place, count how many times I play each note."

Tukes, a 24-year-old jazz musician and vibraphone artist, grew up near Jackson Park and wants the neighborhood children to be exposed to music just as he was. When he was 5 years old, Tukes' grandmother grew tired of him banging on her piano and enrolled him in piano lessons. Tukes went on to study music at Northwestern University, graduating in 2016, and now plays in a local jazz band in addition to teaching private lessons at Kenwood Academy and St. Benedict Preparatory School.

"I don't like to think of it as giving back to my community because that would mean I took something in the first place, but I do think that I am helping young people here gain cultural access and exposure that they otherwise would not have had," Tukes says. "I am trying to inspire them in a way that I was inspired at their age by people like me."

In Chicago, an hourlong piano lesson ranges from $30-$120 depending on the teacher, type of lesson and location. For kids whose families cannot afford lessons, or who attend public schools where music programs have been cut, even 10 minutes at a piano can plant the seeds of music appreciation.

Tukes came into this new job with a list of songs he was hoping the children would be able to play by the end of the summer, but he soon realized the limitations of the program format. Instead he lists three rules for the kids to follow before improvising chords, melodies and baselines, which are:

"Watch where I put my fingers, put your fingers in a similar place, count how many times I play each note."

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