DALLAS — As the sun sets, the roller-skating rink at the Braswell Child Development Center on South 2nd Avenue in South Dallas filled to the brim. But no one inside had on a pair of skates.

The Dallas Morning News reports in fact, all of the skates were tucked away neatly on a shelf to the side. In their place were instruments clutched by musicians from all across Dallas going through warmups. It was nearly time for the Dallas Mass Band to begin practice.

The Dallas Mass Band is a summer program that helps students maintain their practice during the months between the end of school and the start of summer band camps.

More importantly, the band rehearsals give the students something to do during summer nights when kids with nowhere to go can get themselves into trouble. The band also aims to build leadership skills to get kids prepared for college. This all stems from a core belief of head director Kevin Smith and the volunteer directors who run the program.

“Band saves lives,” Smith says.

Band doesn’t necessarily save eardrums. Anyone who heard the band practice in the makeshift rehearsal space could tell the acoustics of the rink weren’t designed for a marching band with 150 members.

On a recent evening in late June, the band played Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3,” Migos’ “Deadz,” and Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” The music slammed off the low-hanging metal ceiling and into your ears. It was so loud that Smith had to grab a pair of headphones to dull the roar.

Smith is the director of bands at Texas College, but he doesn’t get paid for his work with the Dallas Mass Band. He and other directors of college, high school and middle school bands give their time to the band from late April through the end of June.

Eddie Smith, 17, attends South Oak Cliff High School and plays several instruments, including mellophone and trumpet. He said band has been an escape for him from his everyday struggles. “It brought me to a point where everything else didn’t matter,” he said. “Music is my ticket out.”

The band last month performed at the 7th Annual Independence Showdown Battle of the Bands in Jackson, Mississippi. The band plans to start practicing again around Christmas break to start prepping for Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades. Members include students at Skyline High School, Cedar Hill High School, Sunset High School, Lincoln High School and others around Dallas.

The current iteration of the Mass Band started in 2014. Last year, it brought together alumni and students for the first time so younger students could learn from those with college experience.

Franco Solorzano, 16, graduated from Dallas Can Academy in the spring and plays trumpet in the Dallas Mass Band. He started band in fifth grade because it looked fun. But once he got older, he realized being a musician could prevent him from falling into the traps of growing up in Oak Cliff.

“It kept me off the streets, honestly,” he said. “If it wasn’t for band, I’d probably be out doing something I’m not supposed to be doing.”

Solorzano hopes to attend Texas Southern University or Eastfield College. Then he wants to attend the University of North Texas and join the One O’Clock Lab Band, UNT’s Grammy-nominated jazz band. He knows it’s hard to get into, but he says the guidance of the Mass Band’s directors has motivated him.

Dyed green hair and a big smile are trademarks of Isaac Martinez, a 20-year-old tenor sax player. He graduated from Wilmer-Hutchins High School and spent last summer at Prairie View A&M University. He plans to attend the University of North Texas at Dallas this fall. Band gave Martinez something to do after school and it encouraged him to attend a historically black university. It also gave him a sense of purpose so he wouldn’t just sit at home after school.

“Everything you put in (band) is what you get out,” he said. “And you can take ownership of that. You can take ownership in your musicianship, your discipline and just basically it’s something you make. Music is what you can make.”

The program has been struggling to stay afloat financially. This year, the Braswell Child Development Center opened the doors of its roller rink to allow the band to practice for free.

The band charges members $30 to $50 a person to cover basic expenses, such as T-shirts and travel costs. But some of the kids can’t afford it. The band barely scraped together enough money to take members to Mississippi this year. Smith ended up paying around $500 out of his own pocket to help cover the expenses.

“I almost look at it as a ministry,” Smith said. “I’m not a pastor, nothing like that, but the way I try to get these kids on the right path is through music… It pays me in the long run when a kid goes off to college and comes back and thanks you for everything that you’ve done for them. Because they could have been out here making bad decisions.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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ESTEBAN BUSTILLOS
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