The music department started MPP in 1994 as a way to help public schools hard hit by funding cutbacks. The concept is simple: UCLA music majors teach young musicians, in groups and one-on-one.
“MPP teachers helped my playing a lot,” Potter recalls of her experience. “They helped me to develop as a musician.” Like everyone else in the Washington Preparatory High School band, Potter was learning her instrument from other high school students. MPP meant a chance to learn the alto saxophone from a trained musician. “It was very encouraging to have a teacher and to have lessons every week. They gave me direction. They taught me what to practice and how to practice.”
For Jones, the program did more than improve his playing. Before joining Washington Prep’s award-winning band as a bass player, he had been an indifferent student. But the school’s music director, Fernando Pullum, recognized his talents. “He told me he expected good things from me,” Jones says. Pullum has successfully encouraged many of his students to study music in college—specifically at UCLA.
Jones recalls that one of his MPP tutors took him on a tour of the UCLA campus. That made him determined to become a Bruin, even though he didn’t get into UCLA as a freshman. After two successful years at Jackson State College in Mississippi, Jones transferred to UCLA as a junior.
To qualify as MPP tutors, students must be music majors in good standing, with demonstrated competence in a musical instrument. They also need, says Annissa Lui, director of music outreach in the Department of Music, “a strong desire to teach.” Over half of the program’s funding comes from Mimi and Werner Wolfen and the friends and colleagues they have encouraged to support the program, with significant support also coming from Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and several other individuals and small foundations. “Every gift, no matter how small or large, enables us to grow further and reach more people,” says Lui.
The UCLA tutors selected for MPP undergo ten weeks of training, then are assigned to one of five sites in the Los Angeles inner city area. There they help children hone their skills in playing musical instruments, reading music, and working with others in a band or ensemble. Jones and Potter each have about half a dozen students to look after.
The UCLA tutors are given a scholarship—$2000 each for the school year—but both Potter and Jones emphasize other motivations. “I know how much the program helped me out,” says Potter. “I want to also help students out there.”
Furthermore, it’s good training for a future career in teaching, Jones points out. “This gives me a good foundation,” he says. “I’m learning how to communicate and that teachers have to deal with distractions or not having the best equipment.”
Potter sees an advantage in being close in age to her students—and in coming from the same high school. “They can relate to me, and they feel they can ask me anything,” she says. Already in graduate school, Potter is studying the history of African American music. “The main thing is that I’m able to give them the confidence that they can do the same thing.”