Newsmakers Making A Difference: Mike Simons, Intonation

Lisa Fielding
May 29, 2018 - 8:15 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It's a Tuesday night inside Kennecott Park Recreation Center where teens are learning and making music.

The instructor taps the count: "Ready, two, here we go!"

Andrew Bailey is 14, but he joins in like a pro behind his drum set. And drums aren’t the only instrument he plays.

"I play the drums, piano, guitar, the bass and the congas," Bailey said. “I just love playing music here."

Bailey is making his music through Intonation Music Education, a 12-year-old program that provides the space, instruments and instruction to children and teens who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to learn how to play.

Intonation partners with CPS, the Chicago Park District and other organizations and offers 20 classes each week. All of the instruments donated. It serves 600 kids a year, primarily in the greater Bronzeville neighborhood.

Founder Mike Simons said he started the program because like with Bailey, music was his world.

"Music was everything to me growing up. I played in bands," he said. "I really looked to music to build trust with other people.

“That helps me with mentorship relationships with kids, so I had this idea to start a program working with kids to play music with songs they knew and love."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Simons said Intonation has a two-fold mission: music education and youth development.

"We really want to amplify the kids' voice and their ownership and their initiative. That's why we work in popular music," he said.

To recruit students, staff at Intonation works with the school and park districts to identify student who would benefit from the program, Simons said. Each class is a group of 12 led by two paid instructors who are working musicians, youth development workers and mentors.

Mike Simon
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"The kids are really invested with what they are doing with us and in that process they become invested in their own future," he said.

The kids learn how to write and perform music. But, Simon said, more importantly, they learn life skills they can take with them long after they graduate.

"They learn the technical, musical skills on the instrument but even greater than that, they learn how to be part of a team, how to collaborate together, how to set goals together,” he said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Bailey was first exposed to music in church, and inspired by his father, who is also a drummer. But then he joined Intonation at age seven, and it was that program that turned him into a true musician.

He is now part of the Intonation All Stars and has formed his own band. He even played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He said the program has made all the difference in his life.

"This organization to me is a whole different family. This can give you an opportunity to be something in your life," Bailey said. "It keeps me occupied, and it gives me passion for something. I can even make it a career now."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Music can make a difference in everyone's life. It's a great uniter, it’s a great healer. There are things kids and grownups can gather through music where words sometimes fail. It's really the ultimate shared experience and a great way to work together with other people, find your voice. Intonation is where every kid can be a rock star," Simon said.

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As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

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