Desirée González Miller DMA’18 believes music education is a right. An award-winning pianist and teacher, Miller directs the University of Utah Piano Outreach Program (UPOP), which was started to provide kids from underserved communities the opportunity to learn the instrument. UPOP offers after-school group piano classes and private lessons taught by U piano graduate students at six Salt Lake County Title I elementary schools. The 28-week program serves approximately 120 children from grades K-6. Miller says learning an instrument should not be an “extra” reserved for those with means. “Our mission is to make music education available to everyone.”
How do kids benefit from learning to play an instrument?
Learning to play music helps improve focus and reading skills. It also gives kids the opportunity to work toward long-term goals. That is a skill that I think is becoming more rare these days. In our society today, everything is about instant gratification. Everything is available one click away. But with piano, you have to work for many weeks and even months to get a piece ready for recitals. Working on long-term goals can be tricky even for adults, so teaching these life skills when kids are little is very important.
Why is it important to include the arts in education?
The arts introduce students to a new level of sensitivity. Music teaches sensitivity through many expressive means—dynamics, tempo, rhythm, harmony, balance. Being aware of other musicians in an ensemble also teaches collaboration skills.
What’s next for the piano outreach program?
One of my goals is to have all materials available in both English and Spanish because I think language should never be a barrier to becoming involved in a program like this. And we hope to expand to more schools throughout the valley and add middle schools to the program.
Why did you want to become a piano teacher?
I love the process of helping someone discover their full potential. Sometimes people do not know what they are capable of achieving. It is such a sacred responsibility, I think, to help someone discover and nurture their talent.