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Striking a 'Crescendo' in after school arts programming

Jamie Sherman Blinder

A student reacts while listening to their creation during music production class at Crescendo Detroit, an after-school program for children ages 5 to 18 that develops music and dance programming to promote artistic excellence and character building.

For Madisyn Jordan, a 10th grade student in Detroit, playing violin and participating in classes at Crescendo Detroit has helped her to feel more comfortable trying new things, approaching new people and expressing herself. 

She says, through music, “I can play it whenever I am feeling happy, sad or stressed out, and that’s where I go to relax myself and everything.” 

She was introduced to Crescendo in 2019 by her cousin, Jordan Harris.

Harris is what the Crescendo team refer to as a “legacy student” and has spent every summer with Crescendo for the past 10 years. Crescendo’s founder, University of Michigan alum Damien Crutcher, has known Harris’ mother since she was a student in a sixth grade band class he taught in 1991. They have stayed in touch through the years and she enrolled her son in Crutcher’s new venture when it was founded in 2013.

Now, Harris says he enjoys learning about all the different ways the value of music can be applied to his life. 

“Music is important because it gives a sense of discipline that can be transferred everywhere, in all aspects of your life, not just music,” he said. “And it’s fun. It’s a good way to express yourself.”

With his eye on a career in engineering, Harris still believes Crescendo can help him prepare for the future he wants. He says the program is “rigorous, but you will come out of here a much more well-rounded person than you were before.”

Crescendo is an after-school program for children ages 5 to 18 that develops music and dance programming to promote artistic excellence and character building. With literacy and life skill courses, homework support and daily meals and snacks, the program uses a youth-centered approach that addresses the full life of the child that they believe can improve discipline, focus and self-esteem.

Crescendo was designed to address a lack in arts education in the city of Detroit. 

“We started Crescendo about 11 years ago when we noticed that there were no kids walking home with instrument cases. We thought, ‘Well, this is weird.’ When I was growing up, everyone had an instrument case walking from school,” Crutcher said. “We wanted to make sure that our kids had access to music, instruments and dance. It’s important that they have that space. Could you imagine going to school all day and only having math and science and history?”

In many cases, enrichment programs are located near schools or in city centers requiring families to transport their children. This can create a barrier to participation for families without transportation access. For this reason, Crescendo opened up within the Dexter-Davison neighborhood of its participants, in close proximity to where they live.

Now, Crescendo has worked with roughly 125 students in Detroit and also has partnerships with institutions like U-M and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. A group of students perform with the DSO Youth Orchestra, Symphony Band, and Jazz Band. They also participate in composition classes and the DSO’s Senza program, which is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. 

Crescendo also has a partnership with U-M in which participants visit the Ann Arbor campus regularly and work with music education students and attend performances through the University Musical Society.

“When we went to U-M for the very first time, being able to be there with college students and seeing the campus and being able to learn things from them was very, very cool,” Jordan said of one of her U-M visits. 

“I remember when we last went, we went to the dance studio and we learned some African dances and it was very entertaining. You got to learn about a culture that not a lot of people knew about and she showed us dance moves and how much pressure they put into their dances and you got to learn a lot about their history.”

With additional visits to places like the cider mill for cider and hayrides, concerts at the DSO and an annual trip to Cedar Point each summer, the students have no shortage of opportunities for fun or learning.

As far as Crescendo’s aim to improve focus, discipline and self-esteem, one mother had this to say about her fourth grade daughter’s experience: “She wasn’t really that into school. She did the work. She did fine, but just enough to get by. This has made her more disciplined in what she intends to do in the near future. Before Crescendo, she never mentioned going to college. Now she’s talking about going to college, learning to play the flute and taking it overseas maybe, and even teaching.”

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