November 2023 Student Feature
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 edition of the BYU School of Music Journal.
Renee Chiu Gastelum, (pictured bottom right) a senior studying organ performance, decided to take action when she saw a need for musical education among Utah’s refugee community. Renee took inspiration to create a music program for refugees, in part, from her maternal grandparents, who fled from China to Taiwan as refugees. And, having grown up taking music lessons, Renee knows the importance of music education for youth.
Since 2012, Utah has welcomed more than 8,500 refugees to the state, many of whom cannot afford to take music lessons. Renee was first drawn to this demographic when she took a class on community engagement and leadership in music, taught by Professor Jihea Hong-Park. With the help of Professor Park, Renee received a $15,000 grant through the Laycock Endowment for the Collaborative Arts, which enabled her to purchase six pianos, three guitars, and four violins to start a music-teaching program for refugees in Utah.
Within a month, Renee recruited and trained six of her fellow music students to be summer camp instructors. Renee and the instructors met for five months to plan a teaching curriculum. They decided to teach private lessons for violin and guitar, a combined piano lab, music fundamentals, and a choir class. Just like that, the Utah Valley Refugee’s Music Camp was born. The camp took place in July for two weeks, but Renee and the camp founders still continue to teach private lessons throughout the school year.
Renee was also involved in teaching music lessons in Hualien, Taiwan, during the summer. She and several other students traveled to Taiwan to run a similar program to the Utah Valley Refugees’ Music Camp. They taught music lessons and classes to children who weren’t able to live at home and instead were living at the Good Shepherd Center.
I realized that I really enjoy not just helping people who are under-served, but [helping] people with means to become aware of others who they don’t normally think about.
Renee finds it fulfilling to connect people who want to give with people who are in need. She says, “I realized that I really enjoy not just helping people who are under-served, but [helping] people with means to become aware of others who they don’t normally think about.” Renee was astonished at the amount of people in the world who want to give and do good.
Many people were happy and willing to serve at the music camp. “It’s amazing to see how many people will do so much work for free,” Renee states. “They’re not doing it for the money, they’re doing it because they truly love people.” Renee felt inspired by these Christ-like people who gave their time, money, and effort to do good deeds without expecting anything in return. She was touched by their efforts to share the light of Christ through music.
Renee is grateful for those who made the camp possible, especially the generous donors. Renee showed the donors the difference their gifts made by sending them pictures of the students using supplies that were donated. She describes the entire camp as a very fun and heart-warming experience. Renee expresses her gratitude to those who helped her give refugees the opportunity to bring music into their lives and musicians the opportunity to serve.
Watch this recap video of Renee’s work with refugees in Utah Valley and her music program for kids in Taiwan.
Click here to read the full November 2023 issue of the BYU School of Music Journal.