OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 15, 2019) — Four residents of the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC) had the opportunity to enhance their appreciation and competency in musical performance by seeing the group Black Violin perform in Oklahoma City.
The teen-aged boys participate in music therapy sessions in which they have the opportunity to choose and learn to play an instrument at COJC as part of their treatment program and as part of their studies at the Oklahoma Youth Academy Charter School (OYACS), which is operated by the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA). COJC, in Tecumseh, is one of two secure-care treatment facilities operated by OJA.
“This trip gives the boys a chance to see first-hand, people who are working to break down stereotypes using music,” said Joy Yocum, a licensed music therapist on COJC’s staff and an adjunct OYACS teacher. “I hope it will help them understand that the old music (classical) and the contemporary music that they listen to can serve the same purpose if used in similar ways, that the two styles can work together. Perhaps this will carry over into helping to bridge the generation gap as well.”
Black Violin is made up of two classically trained string players, Wil Baptiste, who plays the viola, and Kev Marcus, who plays the violin. Their unique blend of classical and hip-hop music is designed to overcome stereotypes while encouraging people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds to join together to break down cultural barriers. Black Violin performed Thursday evening at the Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Yocum was among COJC staff who accompanied the boys to the concert. They also watched a sound check before the performance and had the opportunity to talk with the artists.
“It is my hope that, after the concert, I can point the boys more in the direction of theory,” Yocum said. “I hope that they will begin to understand that learning the fundamentals in addition to the songs and improvisation that they already play, can be beneficial. Specifically, when studying and playing music, the whole brain is stimulated rather than certain parts as in other disciplines. Chemicals are released during this process, such as dopamine, which improve mood.
Neuroplasticity, from the repeated actions of playing an instrument or singing, helps the brain re-route and build new pathways. Music is a great outlet and coping mechanism for youth who are working to overcome past traumatic experiences.”
One of the COJC residents, Thomas Johnson, 17, said, “It was a good experience and motivation for me to do something bigger in my life than what I’ve been doing.”
Lemuel Bardeguez, vice president for community development at OCCC, said the college was happy to provide concert tickets for the teens and COJC staff and allow them to attend Black Violin’s sound check.
“Without this partnership, these kids may not have had the opportunity to have this experience,” Bardeguez said. “Art has the power to change lives and inspire people. These kids are in the type of situation that they have a need or a hunger for role models. Black Violin is so great at inspiring musicians. It’s all around a great opportunity for us to serve the community and for these students to have an opportunity to meet some of their favorite idols.”
The Black Violin performance was supported in part by the Oklahoma Arts Council, which receives support from the state of Oklahoma and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Oklahoma Arts Council is the official state agency for the support and development of the arts.
“When young people served through the Office of Juvenile Affairs get to experience a performance by Black Violin, it is a reminder of the importance of connecting the mission of the Oklahoma Arts Council to the work of other state agencies,” said Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council. “We are grateful to our friends at the Office of Juvenile Affairs and Oklahoma City Community College for organizing this opportunity for young Oklahomans to be inspired through the arts. We are proud that Oklahoma Arts Council grant funding for the Black Violin performance makes inspiration like this possible.”
“This is an excellent activity for these young people to listen and experience the power of music and how classical music is still very relevant in today’s society,” said OJA Executive Director Steven Buck. “I appreciate OCCC and the Oklahoma Arts Council for making it possible for our students to attend this performance, and certainly the willingness of Joy Yocum and our COJC staff to help with this educational opportunity.”
The Florida natives who make up Black Violin began playing together in their high school orchestra, and parted ways to attend separate colleges. Years later, they reunited to forge a new path through music. In addition, they place heavy emphasis on educational outreach, performing for more than 100,000 students annually. They were recently recognized for their efforts to introduce the arts to struggling schools by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“Music does many things for all who experience it,” Yocum said. “It is especially helpful to adolescents in that it helps with emotion expression and regulation. Teens who study music may have more refined language skills on the concrete side of things, but also often demonstrate a greater ability to express their feelings/tell their story, with or without lyrics. This ability supports emotion regulation as well. It is these last two goals, emotion expression and regulation, which music therapy at COJC aims for the most.”
Two residents of the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center listen to Kev Marcus with Black Violin answer a question during a sound check before the group's performance Thursday night at Oklahoma City Community College.