After eight years of providing music education to students who don't have access to the arts, La Rondalla, the free after-school music program, closed last weekend.
Founder Dennis Gonzalez and his two sons, Stefan and Aaron, tried to keep La Rondalla open, but the cost to keep the program running is $15,000 to $20,000 per month, which covers rent, utility, instruments and instructor pay. It’s a month-to-month struggle to keep La Rondalla open.
“We closed due to lack of funds and an important benefactor leaving the program,” says Stefan, who was also a drum instructor. “We tried and tried to find grant writers and business-minded people to help us stay afloat, but after so many years of barely making it by, we decided we had a successful enough run and that the stress was too immense [so] it was best to throw in the towel.”
Getting donors to support the program has been a struggle. In 2014, Big Thought, the company that supported and helped fund La Rondalla during its first three years, offered the program $5,000. La Rondalla was running out of options but were able to obtain $15,000 from a Kickstarter campaign to resume classes. In March, the Gonzalez family suspended its operations because of a shortage of money. They asked for public donations and eventually received a $20,000 private donation to keep its doors open. They family also had a variety of benefit concert shows.
“Teaching a multi-genre and multi-disciplinary drum class is my proudest achievement yet,” Stefan says.
Stefan is hopeful that the students and community will find another music program.
“In this day and age and with the immediacy of culture via internet and international awareness, I truly believe that all will turn out positively,” Stefan says.
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Stefan knows that the program was a success. Students got a chance to learn for free, and it gave them the opportunity to experience to play and learn from other musicians.
“We were very successful, no doubt about it,” Stefan says. “Our students had the opportunity to play with and open up for the likes of Los Lobos and Edie Brickell/The New Bohemians. They were taught by world-class musicians, such as Sudie Abernathy, Kenny Withrow, Gregg Prickett, Emsy Robinson, Jess Garland and many more. Many musicians performed for our kids, including the likes of Chuscales, Rakta, AfroHorn, Alvin Fielder, Cactus Truck, Yells at Eels, Elliott Levin, Vermulscht, Mazen Kerbaj and many others. I'd say it was a success for us and for our kids through and through.”
Stefan also hopes La Rondalla will inspire others to provide another free music program in the community.
“While I think La Rondalla is already sorely missed," Stefan says, "I truly believe that our absence will inspire others to work hard and provide another free music program for the youth of Oak Cliff regardless of how long or short lived it is.”