Three Santa Margarita Catholic High School students spent the summer sharing their passion for music writing with a group of mostly underserved youngsters who might otherwise not have easy access to the technology and instruction needed to compose music.
FROM RIGHT, VITHESH PERUGUPALLI TAKES A DRUM CLASS LEAD BY SANTA MARGARITA’S LUKE MOONEY AT ST. MARY’S SCHOOL IN ALISO VIEJO ON THURSDAY, JULY 7, 2022.. PHOTO BY DREW KELLEY
Friends Darius Mahjoob, Luke Mooney and Nikiel Douglas, all currently seniors, earned a fellowship from the Dragon Kim Foundation, an Irvine nonprofit which provides a $5,000 grant, business training and mentorship for high school students who develop a service project that impacts the community.
Their project, Music Composition 4 Kids, provides underserved children with the opportunity to learn creative expression through music composition.
Mahjoob, a pianist, violinist and composer, had the idea for the program, feeling children from low-income backgrounds have limited access to music lessons and even less access to music composition instruction.
“When I started doing music composition, I was a little bit younger, maybe 12 or 13 years old and I had to learn on my own because there weren’t any resources for me to learn from and I was really bummed about that,” Mahjoob said. “The tools are all there and everything is free to use but you have to learn how to do it through trial and error.”
The friends secured a classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Aliso Viejo, where they provided 15 hours of instruction to children from the Aliso Viejo Boys & Girls Club and local middle schools. Instruction centered mainly around the software needed to compose music and allowed for hands on practice on instruments.
The three friends were among 70 students selected for 35 projects from a field of 300 who applied for the Dragon Kim Fellowship last November. Applicants were required to provide an overview of the project along with a video and a recommendation letter. Finalists then went through an oral interview before the 35 projects were selected.
Teams were then paired with a mentor who checked in weekly for the progress of the project. The fellowship also included three training weekends to practice leadership and business skills.
“What really inspired about us about the whole interview and application process was just how articulate they were,” said Airee Lugo, Dragon Kim program manager. “I could tell right away they are natural teachers.”
Mahjoob first enlisted the help of Mooney, a drummer and guitar player with experience in video production.
“Darius brought this opportunity and I just jumped in headfirst,” said Mooney, who contributes to a streaming 10-minute morning newscast at Santa Margarita. “Darius brought me on and said, ‘Look I think I have the curriculum figured out and I just need some help marketing and business side’ and I said I can definitely help you out with photos, video and marketing.”
Mooney is also drafting an impact report detailing specifics of the program and creating a video highlighting the highpoints of the class.
Douglas, a member of Santa Margarita’s Model United Nations, an academic competition where students compete against other schools and participate in mock United Nations sessions, managed the business side of Composition 4 Kids.
“It’s been great, not only here but at the Dragon Kim Foundation trainings that we had,” said Nikiel, who plans to major in International Business in college. “Sometimes I can feel kind of like an introvert and the trainings have helped me get outside of my own box and interact with students. I think that has been a tremendous help.”
The Dragon Kim Foundation was established by Daniel and Grace Kim, to honor the legacy of their son, Dragon, who was 14 when he was killed along with his friend in a camping accident at Yosemite on Aug. 14, 2015.
At the time of his death, Dragon had finished his freshman year at Orange County School of the Arts, where he and some friends were designing a program which would provide musical instrument instruction to underserved a music club which performs at senior living facilities.
He got the idea from playing music for his grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease and would light up when she heard the music. “Music is definitely a big part of my life and so is community service and this project is an extension of that,” Mahjoob said. “I wanted to see how I could get more kids inspired to do more musical compositional activities and just create.