Monica Washington Padula is a trailblazer in Kalamazoo. The multi-instrument, classically trained musician and music educator of African-American and Indigenous descent operates her own piano studio. She’s on a mission to get more children of color fired up about playing instruments.
“I always had this idea that everybody who wanted to study music should be able to,” says Washington Padula in an interview that aired today on WMUK 102.1 FM, as part of a monthlong series featuring local citizens making a difference.
Washington Padula, who born in Lansing, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical piano performance from Western Michigan University, but also plays the saxophone and organ. In addition to giving lessons in her Washington Piano Studio, she serves as music director, pianist and organist for faith organizations, community choirs and theater groups in the Kalamazoo area.
There's one project that's especially dear to her. Washington Padula gives piano lessons to youngsters, most them of color, enrolled in the Liepman Music Enhancement Program based at Mothers of Hope, a Kalamazoo organization providing support to individuals seeking healing from substance abuse. Scholarships for free lessons are given to the recovering adults' children. She's been doing this for two years.
Washington Padula is also passionate about using her platform to speak out about the challenges that some musicians of color face, among them, she says: “anti-Blackness and stereotypes of what Black musicians should do or the only types of music they should play.”
She touched on this when she co-led a workshop with Kalamazoo native Edward Callahan, a professional classical pianist who is African-American. Together, they presented the “Stay True to You, Your Culture is Important” talk on Feb. 20 for Gilmore KeysFest, a daylong learning event for youth interested in piano.
“We wanted to inspire the youth, particularly the youth of color that they do not need to separate or hide or minimize their origins, and that those very origins are the fuel that's going to help them through whatever their journey is in music,” says Washington Padula, who is African-American with documented descendancy with the historic Saginaw Swan Creek and Black River tribe of the Ojibwe people of Michigan.
Washington Padula says they encouraged the students “to reach back and find ways to access (their culture) and to display that throughout their journey.”
“That is really powerful,” she says.
Want to know more about Monica Washington Padula? Visit the city of Portage’s website for a videotaped interview, where you’ll see her perform on the piano. Click here to listen to her play at the WMUK studios on Oct. 25, 2019. We also interviewed her.