Musical Relief founders Michael Lan, 16, left, and Evan Cheng,...

Musical Relief founders Michael Lan, 16, left, and Evan Cheng, 17, play their instruments in Syosset. They switched their in-person sessions to virtual ones as the pandemic led to school closures. Credit: Morgan Campbell/Morgan Campbell

A group of Syosset High School students and their friends are using their musical talents to offer lessons at no cost for children who either had their music education disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic or can’t afford professional instruction.

Michael Lan, 16, a founding teacher of the Musical Relief program who plays the violin and viola, said once the pandemic hit the sessions went virtual.

The teachers consist of at least 18 high school students from communities such as Syosset and Hicksville who have participated in extracurricular orchestras or selective pre-college music programs such as those offered at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan.

"It makes me feel as though we’re actually making some sort of impact in terms of being able to teach students and spread musical education," said Lan, a junior at Syosset High School, who teaches five students a week.

The volunteer program started in May 2019 after founder Evan Cheng, a Syosset High School student, asked Lan and others to help teach students in the community. Lan said a music teacher in the school district asked if he could help students improve their musical skills.

Word about the students’ work spread through social media, Lan said. Lesson requests have come in from Texas and California to play the piano, as well as string, wind and percussion instruments. There are 70 students taking lessons.

Matthew Yan, of Plainview, said his then-third-grade daughter, Samantha, had not played any instruments before he signed her up for lessons. Now she’s a fourth-grader at Pasadena Elementary School in Plainview and is learning the viola.

"For people who want to start to get the exposure [for kids], not knowing whether they will like it … is definitely beneficial to everyone," said Matthew Yan, who has his daughter learning from Lan once a week virtually. "Private lessons can be very expensive."

The program has received $3,500 in donations from parents, of which $2,500 has been given in food to The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island in New Hyde Park, a respite for ill children undergoing treatment and their families. And the office of Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan (I-Woodbury) recognized them with a citation in August for their work. Lan said the remaining funds will be used for future donations.

Musical Relief founders Michael Lan, 16, left, and Evan Cheng,...

Musical Relief founders Michael Lan, 16, left, and Evan Cheng, 17, play their instruments in Syosset. They switched their in-person sessions to virtual ones as the pandemic led to school closures. Credit: Morgan Campbell/Morgan Campbell

Before going virtual, Musical Relief classes were held once a week at the Sitan Tai Chi and Martial Arts facility in Syosset, said owner Lynn Lin, who let the students use the place for free.

Lan’s mother, Ying Lin, no relation to Lynn Lin, put him in music classes as a preschooler after bringing him to a piano class to watch his older brother, Jason, now 18.

Emily Beckner, 17, a senior at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington, said she connected with Cheng to teach. Beckner, who has played violin for almost a decade, said she was at first hesitant.

"I was a bit nervous about it because I had never had any prior teaching experience," said Beckner, of Hicksville. "But as I kept doing it I saw my students progress and I became more invested in their progress."

Lan said some teachers in the program, including Cheng, 17, are planning for college and may decide not to study music, but not him.

"I plan on becoming a music educator," Lan said, "like when I’m an adult."

RELIEF THROUGH MUSIC

The Musical Relief program pairs student musicians with others working to master their instruments to offer them guidance and lessons.

  • Started in May 2019
  • At least 18 teachers provide piano, string and percussion tutor lessons to students
  • Just over 100 students have benefitted from the volunteer program
  • For more information email musicalreliefllc@gmail.com

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