Arizona musicians cross the border to teach in youth music program

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Studio Mariposa brings Arizona musicians across the border to teach kids in the small town of Naco, Sonora how to play in a band.

Gretchen Baer founded Studio Mariposa eight years ago, and describes the program as a place where “art transcends music.” Baer travels with her fellow musicians to Bisbee, Arizona twice a week to teach music and engage the local youth in the arts.

“We kind of just let them have fun and teach them how to channel it into something structured, but we try not to do too much structure because it’s nice to have some surprises out there,” Lead Instructor Mike Montoya says.

Not only is it a learning experience for the kids but for the adults, as well. Montoya says the kids have taught him a lot, including how to speak Spanish. Baer says it’s a great opportunity to learn that we’re all people, and something like a border won’t stop us from caring about each other.

It’s a unique experience for the kids because the education is free for them. Paying for music lessons is a rare event in town. After school, they go to where they usually meet up and they jam. It’s a place for them to stop think about school and everything else.

“They are good people because there are some from the U.S. who won’t do this,” Alexis, a Mariposa band member, says. “They’re not like these people who teach us and are kind to us.”

In addition to the music, the kids are also taught to do arts and crafts and other activities that keep them thinking creatively. Eric Kruske, a musician from Bisbee, says the kids light up the second they arrive. Once a kid shows up once, it’s likely that they’ll keep showing up. Kruske says what keeps him and other musicians coming back is the rewarding feeling they are left with after making the kids happy.

All of the instruments and materials are donated. For more information on the project go here.

Jose Cardenas: It is a project that is breaking barriers along the border and its message is loud is clear. Children and adults from two different countries can create harmony together and find life's meaning through the magic of music. Reporter Adriana De Alba traveled through the border town of Naco, Sonora to see how musicians from the U.S. are inspiring children in Mexico.

Adriana De Alba: In the small border town of Naco, just 13 miles south of Bisbee, Arizona, a weekly visit means a chance to escape. Years ago teaching music to Mexican children along the border was just a dream but now that vision has come to life thanks to Bisbee based artists Gretchen Bear.

Gretchen Baer: Just being right here along the border it is a special place in kind of a way. These kids are special kids or I think so.

Adriana De Alba: For the children living in this town an opportunity like this is hard to come by. Many of the families here struggle to make ends meet and music lessons are not usually a priority.

Interview: It is beyond my imagination he says. When I was young they brought me a drum set and I always played it.

Adriana De Alba: Not only is this a chance to feel the base but also a place to be a kid after a long day in the classroom.

Mike Montoya: We kind of let them have fun and teach them how to channel it into something structured but we try not to do too much structure because I think it is kind of cool to have surprises happen. That is why I like it.

Adriana De Alba: Mike Montoya is the lead instructor and musician by night who never thought he would find a purpose on the other side of the border

Mike Montoya: As Americans coming over here, we are learning a lot from them. I learn a lot of Spanish coming here. They taught me a lot.

Adriana De Alba: Beyond learning how to string the guitar. The lessons here go deeper.

Interview: They are good people, he says because there are some from the U.S. who will not do this. They are not like these people who teach us and are kind to us.

Eric Kruske: I know we all light up when here. Everybody here that comes down comes down again and again. We all keep coming back. The rewards are really that it feels so good to help these kids.

Adriana De Alba: The port of entry here in Naco is fluent and it usually takes less than five minutes to get to the Mexican side of the border which makes it easy for the musicians to visit the children twice a week. The U.S.-Mexico border is often thought of as firmly dividing two nations but with people coming and going every day it flows more like a river.

Gretchen Baer: The border wall doesn't stop people from caring from each other or kid from being kids or loving to make music together.

Adriana De Alba: Gretchen started this project eight years ago. It extended into a mile long statement about what happens when art transcends politics.

Gretchen Baer: This is a way to take something that has a lot of negativity and turn it into something positive so we are able to, through the kids, take a wall that separates people and actually bring people together.

Adriana De Alba: That vibrant stretch of the border wall was torn down to make way for an upgraded fence. That came coincidently after then candidate trump's message that a wall is needed to separate the U.S. from Mexico. Gretchen refused to let the noise dim her desire to bridge two nations.

Gretchen Baer: I started it from complete political distress from our country and it grows out of that. Just the feeling of love and spreading the love to wherever you can and this has been a great place to do it.

Adriana De Alba: Two days a week there are music lessons, art instructions, and a chance to just release.

Mike Montoya: I have learned to let go and let things go with the flow and then these things just blossom out of it.

Interview: When I get out of school, I come straight here he says.

Adriana De Alba: For many artists and musicians the final product is the goal but here is it the journey that brings them back.

Eric Kruske: As long as they like me coming around to help them and to show them different songs and things I will be here. I want to be involved with the kids. It is happening so quickly that every week its change.

Adriana De Alba: The immediate plan is to grow the band record original music and cell CDs but the underlying hope for the project is to expand beyond the dusty streets of Naco.

Gretchen Baer: I hope our project inspires other people to cross over. It’s okay on this side in fact it is really nice over here. It’s colorful, the people are warm and loving. There is a lot of laughter. The kids are great. What is not to love?

Jose Cardenas: All of the instruments and materials are donated from the U.S. Gretchen hopes the support continues in order to expand the project.

Gretchen Baer: Artist and Founder, Studio Mariposa
Mike Montoya: Lead instructor and musician, Studio Maiposa
Eric Kruske: Bisbee Musician
Alexis: Mariposa Band Member

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