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East Bay Woman's Non-Profit Teaches Love Of Music To Elementary School Kids

by Allen Martin and Jennifer Mistrot

FREMONT (KPIX 5) -- When Bay Area elementary schools started eliminating music programs decades ago, Carol Zilli decided to do something about it.

Drawing from her deep love of music and teaching, Zilli started a non-profit that provides low-cost music lessons to school children all across the East Bay.

Thirty years ago Zilli was a volunteer, playing piano and teaching music at her son's first grade class. But she soon realized many other children were missing out by not having music classes in their schools. So in 1988, Zilli created "Music for Minors II," a non-profit modeled after a similar San Mateo County-based program, "Music for Minors."

Like its predecessor, Music for Minors II relies on volunteer docents to teach all of its classes. Zilli has trained many docents personally, who then teach music once a week in 30 East Bay schools. In 2017, nearly 100 docents were teaching as many as 5,000 children each week, literally filling school classrooms with the sound of music.

For Zilli, seeing the smiles on children's faces as they learn a new song is the motivation behind her mission.

"You start a song and then all of a sudden they're smiling and they're having fun, you know that's everything," said Zilli with a smile. "But the best is the kids because they just give you the spirit, they give you the joy and they're so innocent a lot of them and pure."

Zilli' s own love affair with music began in her childhood, when as a precocious eight-year-old she begged her father for a piano. Now Zilli teaches at her own granddaughter's school, Niles Elementary in Fremont.

For Zilli it's a full circle musical journey. She attended Niles as a child and sang on the school's stage. And for her young students, the classes are pure fun. Zilli is grateful she can inspire and educate a new generation of music aficionados.

"If you get them young and they start, that's when they're like sponges, they just get it completely, said Zilli. "I know we've changed lives. We've changed lives in adults and I know we've changed lives in children. Teachers have told us the impact we've had."

Music for Minors II is largely funded through grants, specifically from Fremont Bank. But it also accepts private donations.

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