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Showing the Next Generation What’s Possible with Sound

Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes or one small exchange to alter the trajectory of your life.

For Hector Morales ’24, that moment was when he received a broken Casio keyboard six years ago. The gift set him on a completely new path—one that started with group piano lessons and led to the exploration of electronic music and a major in music before joining Northwestern’s MA in Sound Arts and Industries program.

“I think it’s important to use whatever position you have in life to make things a little better for someone else,” he says. “Don’t forget where you’re from. As you move forward, it’s easy to not look back. But it’s always important to help.”

Following his own words of wisdom, Morales set out to do just that: help. He wanted to take advantage of the many opportunities Northwestern offers to expand learning beyond the classroom walls, make real change, and inspire the next generation.

During his search for volunteer opportunities, he discovered the Gale Youth Summit. This annual event, led by Northwestern University and the Gale Community Academy—an anchor for nearby Rogers Park students and residents—brings the two communities together while introducing students in fifth through eighth grades to the educational possibilities that await down the road at Northwestern.

It also gives young minds the chance to learn from local students, business leaders, scientists, and civic leaders; discover new academic and creative pursuits; and get excited about school.

As part of the day-long Gale Youth Summit, Morales wanted to not only tell Gale Community Academy students about the career possibilities that exist in sound, but also expose them to electronic music and new types of sound. “We want to see the next generation be built up,” he explains. “We want them to start thinking about it now.”

To do this, he called on Christopher Nwoye ’23 for support. He knew that Nwoye’s background in music and production would be a nice complement to his own perspective and experience with film. Together, they came up with a plan.

Neither Morales nor Nwoye had worked with children before, so Nwoye did some research to uncover teaching methods and practices that would capture the attention of young students. Although they had preconceived notions about what students would and wouldn’t know about sound, Nwoye says he and Morales quickly realized that many of the students already make music. “It was just a matter of helping them set a structure and grow,” he says. “And seeing their enthusiasm energized us to do more.”

During the event, the students were exposed to different types of sound equipment, like a digital audio workstation, and Nwoye encouraged them to play around with keyboards and other instruments. “The kids really gravitated toward him because of his energy,” says Morales. “He was able to engage them.”

That day, Nwoye says he also learned a few best practices from other Northwestern students to make the learning experience even better. To ease nerves, for example, he started to invite students up in groups instead of individually to experiment with instruments.

To complement these hands-on experiences, Morales talked to students about the importance of sound in everyday life and how it can be used to create music for so many things: podcasts, movies, live performances, etc.

“It’s helpful for them to see people who look like them pursuing work in this field,” says Nwoye. “They left with a greater knowledge about what their real possibilities are. We saw lightbulbs going off.”

The message from Morales and Nwoye at the Gale Youth Summit was clear: We’re from this area, and we’re doing it. So can you.

Read more on our blog and follow Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program on Facebook and Twitter.