DALLAS -- The clock is ticking for an Oak Cliff after-school music program.
La Rondalla needs to raise $15,000 by Jan. 20 or there will be no free music lessons for dozens of kids from several Dallas schools.
La Rondalla normally gets funding through an education non-profit group called Big Thought. Instructors found out just before Christmas that Big Thought had run out of money, and they have just weeks to raise the money themselves.
It looked like a winter break jam session at musician Dennis Gonzalez’s home Thursday, but his students met up during vacation not to waste time, but to help buy some time for their after school music program.
“We have two weeks of funding,” Gonzalez said. “And then after that, we don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Gonzalez shares his expertise with Dallas students through La Rondalla. He started the program in 2010 at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center.
In many cases, his students can't afford private lessons or attend schools where music programs have been cut. They get free lessons, mainly in acoustic, electric, and bass guitar, as well as drums and percussion.
Big Thought was paying the teachers and other expenses, but Gonzalez said he was told donations were down in 2013. Instead of getting $50,000, La Rondalla will only get $5,000.
“If we have to tell them that they’re not able to come; I think there’s going to be a lot of tears,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of 'Why?'”
Gonzalez started a Kickstarter fundraising page. All the money pledged will go toward teaching the classes. You can it see at this link.
This week, the students are recording songs for a CD to offer as gifts for donors.
Dominique Fleming has been with La Rondalla for two years. She attends the science and engineering magnet at Townview. She said she loves music and playing songs by her favorite group, The Beatles.
She has performed with the Advanced Guitar Ensemble throughout Dallas and Oak Cliff. The week before Christmas, the Advanced Guitar Ensemble opened the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Concert with a performance in the lobby.
Fleming said her skills and confidence have improved.
“It’s something that I really love to be a part of, so I can’t imagine not having it,” she said. “It’s a big part of my life now.”
Gonzalez said he and the other instructors see the students growing as musicians and maturing as people.
The five instructors include Kenny Withrow, who is known for noted for his work with Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. Three of the instructors - Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez and Gregg Prickett - are members of the noted improv/jazz group Unconscious Collective.
“It’s going to be tough on a lot of us,” Gonzalez said. “After three-and-a-half years of this, we’ve dedicated a lot of time to it. Our instructors will have to go and get gigs somewhere else, but it’s not the same as teaching these wonderful kids.”
Saving La Rondalla will not only preserve a program, but a bond between students, teachers, and the music they love to play.
Still, Gonzalez said he is staying positive and brainstorming for more ways to meet their goal, but what La Rondalla really needs is donations.
Amanda Duquette, who is the director of communications for Big Thought, said La Rondalla was funded as normal, but used up much of the funds during the summer. Big Thought did provide $5,000 for La Rondalla to help with programs in the spring.
Duquette provided News 8 with the following statement:
In its 27th year, Big Thought is a strong, fiscally secure organization that is recognized as a national model for its work providing thousands of Dallas children every year with access to out of school cultural and educational programming, attracting support from major North Texas and national funders. Big Thought has invested approximately $43,000 in the La Rondalla program during this past year, and will continue to help fund this initiative. As is done with many start-up initiatives partnering with Big Thought, initial funding is provided with the understanding that after several years the fundraising obligation will be shared with the emerging nonprofit or program, as is the case with the La Rondalla. Big Thought has worked closely with the La Rondalla organization for many months, making certain its leadership was aware of their need to support Big Thought’s fundraising efforts and to develop their own fundraising sources.
La Rondalla is an outstanding organization, and Big Thought will continue to fund the program and provide technical assistance to help Dennis Gonzalez identify funding sources for future programming.