In an office converted into an audio studio at the back of the Lynn YMCA, Merlyn Garcia adjusts a microphone stand and checks a connection cable before her fingers fly over the computer keyboard that controls the professional-grade soundboard. After a quick sound check, she makes a few adjustments.
Then she belts out Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best.’’
She does all of this with a confidence and proficiency — and voice — that belie her age. She is all of 10 years old.
Merlyn is one of the youngest participants in the Studio Clubhouse, the Y’s four-year-old music program that teaches youngsters all aspects of the music industry, from singing and songwriting to technology and sound engineering. The clubhouse is intended for ages 10 to 18, but Merlyn elbowed her way into the program soon after it started.
“Merlyn’s a good representation of some of the younger kids we have in the program,” said Gregg Ellenberg, the Y’s associate executive director. “It was because of her persistence and also her passion that we decided to allow her in. . . . We’d hate to exclude kids with such passion just because they don’t meet the age requirements. So we found a way to let some of the younger kids in on a limited basis. She really earned her way into the program, and now she’s probably one of the hardest workers we have.”
When the Y began its music program, demand quickly exceeded capacity. About a year in, the Y teamed up with the Music & Youth Initiative, a nonprofit that helps create Studio Clubhouses for community organizations, providing funding, equipment, and workshops.
“They help with startup costs and funding for a certain amount of years, and then they do a lot of programmatics for it as well that extends beyond the funding period,” said Ellenberg. “They had a model and we were able to gauge the interest at our Y with the [original] program.”
The youth initiative also has local clubhouses in Chelsea, Everett, and Lawrence, according to its website.
Additional grants from the Dropkick Murphys’ Claddagh Fund, Foundation M, and Ernie Boch Jr.’s Music Drives Us Foundation will allow the Lynn YMCA to develop sustainable funding for the music program, which Ellenberg believes is important for youngsters.
“It’s really a complement to anything they’re going to do academically,” he said. “It really works on all their skills, but most importantly it gives them a chance to express themselves without all the constraints or rules that you’d find in a classroom.”
The music program is available to members of the Y. The Lynn YMCA also has a preschool music program, for children as young as 2 years, 9 months up to age 6. The Y is trying to add a program for kids who are 7 to 10 — too old for the younger group and too young for the older group.
Merlyn Garcia is one example of why that is important.
“The best part is that I can be myself, sing a lot of stuff,” she said. “It’s really fun to be here.”
The Y’s shining star from the program is Amanda Mena, the 11-year-old Lynn girl who won “La Voz Kids,’’ the Telemundo version of the “The Voice” TV show, in June. Merlyn is the recipient of the first scholarship named in Amanda’s honor — a year of free access to the Y and the studio. The song Merlyn was rehearsing on this day is the one she will sing for her audition on “La Voz Kids’’ this month.
Helder Tsinine is the Y’s music instructor, responsible for all age ranges from toddler to teen. In 2005, Tsinine emigrated from Mozambique, where he had had no formal music education but had picked up instruction by watching his father’s band and mimicking what he had seen. He graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2011 and began working at the Y shortly afterward.
One of Tsinine’s creations is the monthly open-mike night that helps the young artists get used to performing in front of audiences.
“The children get to perform songs that either I choose for them, or they choose themselves,” he said. “And they perform for an audience of 30 to 40 participants watching them. And by doing that, they become more confident, expressing themselves freely without being afraid to be judged. And this is one other thing that we tend to focus on, giving them positive reinforcement, and that has been very good news for the kids here at the Y.”
Denyse Hairston, 19, a recent graduate of Lynn Classical High, is at Salem State University this fall. Because of her talents and her dedication to the program, she was given a youth leadership job with the Y’s program. She recently completed the five-week City Music Program at Berklee – the sixth studio member from the Lynn Y to complete the program, which Tsinine has helped facilitate.
“Being able to share my talents and being able to teach kids the stuff that I learned” are the best aspects of the Y’s program, Hairston said. “And as I’m teaching them I’m teaching myself as well, and doing something that I love. And seeing them be so happy and being able to express themselves in different ways is the best part of being a part of the music studio.
Tsinine said the kids in the Y’s program all look up to Hairston, who has big dreams rooted in reality.
“My career, I want to, obviously, be big and become a star,” she said. “But my backup is to be a music teacher, and to be able to sing like I do here now. And I want to have my own business, because I’m double-majoring in music and business. So to have my own business one day would be amazing.”
In the meantime, Merlyn Garcia has advice for any other youngster who might be thinking of joining the Y’s Studio Clubhouse.
“This program is the best thing, because if I never went here, I wouldn’t be standing right here, singing and everything,” she said. “So the message is try something new, live your dream, become who you are.”