By Faith Duarte

If you ever search on Google for “music lessons” or “music schools” in San Antonio, what becomes immediately apparent on the map is that all the results are found north of Highway 90, and nary a school south of it.
However, one local parent is looking to overcome this creative divide and increase access and networking opportunities to underserved students.
Bell Solloa first founded the High Voltage Music Program for teens looking to pursue an interest in music, and the inspiration behind the program began with her son, Jeremy Solloa.
Bell Solloa first started the program in fall 2016 at her son’s school at IDEA South Flores, after she noticed a lack of afterschool programming that focused on the arts.
She wanted him to meet like-minded kids in “a ‘School of Rock’ type atmosphere,” but the music schools on the North Side were too far and too expensive, she tells me over the phone one Friday in April.
“From Alamo Street to the South Side, I’ve found nothing,” she says. “That was inspiration to … Whether or not I can do it, I’m going to try it.”
Her son also had difficulty trying to find peers who were as serious as he was about playing music.
“He was frustrated, I was frustrated,” she says.
So, she persuaded the school administration to allow her to bring in spare instruments.


“After the first class, it became evident that a lot of the kids wanted to try it,” she says.
Over time the program there has grown to accommodate 45 students.
The free program teaches underserved teens who may not necessarily have the means to practice music to participate in music lessons, have access to instruments, and collaborate with like-minded peers.
The program also features beginner and intermediate classes that teach instrument fundamentals, and band classes. Instruments are provided for the students if necessary, and students of all experience levels are welcome.
Afterschool program coordinators at other IDEA campuses took notice of High Voltage’s growth, which led to an expansion of the program earlier this year.
After an observation period of the South Flores program, over the course of six weeks starting in January 2019, the coordinators implemented the program at the Monterrey Park, Carver and Walzem campuses.
Solloa oversaw the opening of each new program before moving on to the next campus.
“I liked to be the one to talk to them, to welcome them,” she says. “Now I just bounce around the schools.”
At each school, the program meets attendees twice weekly for approximately two hours. South Flores has the largest program at around 45 students, while the other campuses have around 10 students.
Outside of the school year, the program also features summer workshops from June to August that are first come, first serve to 25 students from any school in the city. The workshops are comprised of beginner and intermediate level bass, electric guitar, and drum classes. Students can enroll in up to two workshops.
“A combination of lack of time and resources may make it difficult for parents to take kids to an instructor, lack of money for instruments or lessons,” she says.
“A lot of our students come from single-parent households,” she says. “Those are the people that I always think about. It was hard for me to know that I had a talented kid sitting here, and I couldn’t do those things.”
With showcases around the city throughout the year, the program provides opportunities for teens looking to pursue music, but have difficulty reaching out to other creative peers.
“We’re making sure that we can reach that person, who has a kid who’s been sitting in their room for a couple of years playing and they don’t know anybody at their school, and they don’t know how to ask,” Solloa says.
She says she has noticed that “Most of those creative kids are a little shy and introverted. You’d be surprised they’re so introverted, until you put them on stage, and then they flourish.”
“That kind of kid, like my kid … It’s important in this side of town, in the South Side. We have zero music schools,” she says.
Ultimately, Solloa wants to provide opportunities for teens interested in playing music to be able to network with each other.
“There’s a lack of that in this town. They’re very secluded to only their areas and they often don’t leave their side of town,” she says. “They may go to a concert once in a while, but not a teen concert, because there aren’t really any.”
In May, the program held its semi-annual Teens on a Mission fundraiser at South Texas Museum of Popular Culture. The teen-oriented event featured arts and crafts vendors, and most of the bands on the bill have met through the afterschool program, playing a mix of covers and original music. A third Teens on a Mission fundraiser is scheduled for November.
“That’s kind of where this has developed, where we do events where I recruit teen bands from all over the San Antonio to play this event,” she says. “We bring out kids from all over the city, they get to meet each other.”
She seeks to reach out to any teen who has a creative interest, but who might be apprehensive about displaying their work.
For Solloa, the program succeeds when a student with no previous music experience can eventually approach the stage.
“Getting the kids to the point where they can actually walk onstage and play a song,” she says. “They don’t have to do a whole set. It’s just getting them onstage for that one song is our goal.”
What the students learn during the program ushers character building and self-discovery.
“It goes beyond just learning a song; it helps them learn about themselves,” she says.
More information on the program is available at highvoltagemusic.org, or check out their pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.