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Cecelia Sharpe, Founder of Urban Stringz II Youth Ensemble
The music educator found her passion in working with kids, and now she is sharing her love for song and instruments with a youth program in Detroit
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Cecelia Sharpe. That's "C-Sharpe," as she's sometimes called. It's a fitting name for somebody whose life took a melodic path—and, as the founder and conductor at Urban Stringz II Youth Ensemble, she's giving kids a chance to experience the magic of music, too.
Her love for music started early. "That's what I grew up around, as far as listening to music in the house," Sharpe recalls. Her family played everything from Barry White to Queen to Billy Ray Cyrus. "They were always playing music and making sure that I was exposed to a lot of variety of music."
Just before entering fourth grade, Sharpe saw a man playing the cello on TV. Out of the entire orchestra, he stood out. "He looked cool playing it," she says. "I just liked the way the instrument looked."
She was inspired. She joined her school's orchestra, picking up the cello. Later, she joined the Weekend School of Music at Wayne State University and eventually connected with the Dearborn Youth Symphony. She continued to play at the Detroit School of Arts high school, took private lessons and played in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic Orchestra.
Her experiences led her to WSU, where she pursued a degree in music education. Here, she discovered people playing all sorts of genres on cello. "That's when I found that you could go beyond classical music."
It came in handy when she taught music at a K-12 school in Detroit. High schoolers new to string instruments just didn't seem to have an interest.
"What I really realized is that they were interested, but they needed something they could relate to"—and that wasn't "Mary Had a Little Lamb," she jokes. Sharpe started teaching them scales in a hip-hop rhythm. They loved it.
For her middle school students who loved playing their instruments, Sharpe created a summer camp she ran out of her mom's house. The songs included popular TV and movie themes. They'd eat and take field trips. "Just exposing them to what Detroit has to offer."
That grew into Urban Stringz II Youth Ensemble, which invites students ages 8-18 of any skill level to participate in a two-week summer camp in Midtown playing string instruments. Students get a taste of performing and have fun learning music from artists like Etta James, J Dilla and Lady Gaga. Meals and field trips are still part of the agenda. The more advanced students stick around through the school year to play at various venues around town. "It's about sharing your talent with others."
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