Gunn senior founds virtual music lessons nonprofit, instructing over 900 students

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

When Gunn High School senior Julia Segal was devastated by the sudden cancelation of her band’s first recording session due to the pandemic, she turned to another way to utilize her passion for music.

QuaranTunes, which Segal founded just weeks later, is described by the singer-songwriter and keyboardist as an online platform that “connects teen musicians and artists with children in order to provide virtual music lessons.”

Today, the student-led nonprofit has over 300 volunteer teachers instructing an estimated 900 students from across the globe. Lessons are offered on anything from specific instruments, to otherwise difficult-to-find courses like film scoring or music production. Beyond music, QuaranTunes also offers lessons in “almost anything you can think of that counts as art.”

While there’s never a mandatory fee to take a QuaranTunes lesson, the suggested donation in place is $20 per class. Thanks to these donations by parents, QuaranTunes has raised $55,000 for various charitable causes since its founding last March. 

“Our charity right now is the Save The Music Foundation,” Segal said. “It’s a nationwide foundation that has helped millions of kids in public schools get their first access to music education through public school music programs.”

Palo Alto High School sophomore Ajin Jeong is among the hundreds of QuaranTunes teachers that volunteer their time for its cause. Jeong — who in addition to teaching also serves as a board member — said there are unique aspects to teaching while being a student of music herself. 

“Since I’m younger, I can relate to my students better,” Jeong said. “One of them’s seven and one of them is twelve, so I can relate to what place they’re in right now. I think that helps me as a teacher.”

Fellow Paly sophomore Divya Mathur was introduced to the organization through Jeong. With more than enough time on her hands due to the shelter-in-place order last summer, she joined QuaranTunes as a piano teacher. Today, Mathur teaches seven students after school throughout the week.

“Usually with my younger students who are six, seven or eight, it’s a very direct lesson,” Mathur said. “I’ll have my computer on top of my keyboard, and then usually they can play by ear, and I’ll kind of direct their hands and their fingers.”

Mathur said her favorite part of teaching music is seeing students grow, and that one student of hers in particular showed immense growth not long after starting their weekly piano lessons.

“I gave [Für Elise] to her, and two weeks later, she was finished with it. She had perfected it,” Mathur said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This eight year old girl — in two weeks, in free lessons, had never played before — was able to play Für Elise’ … I was so happy.”

Segal also teaches, despite her main responsibilities being to oversee QuaranTunes as a whole. Though her vocal and piano student started as a complete beginner to music, Segal chose to skip past the basics of piano — scales and learning Hot Cross Buns — to skills she felt were more relevant for a pop singer-songwriter like the student hoped to become.

“Now she can play and write and sing her own songs. I’ve seen her write songs about COVID and how lonely it’s made her …, how annoying her brother is, and she just kind of really lets her emotions out,” Segal said. “That’s what songs have been for me; they’ve always been a diary for me to express my emotions.”

Beyond one-on-one lessons, QuaranTunes offers a virtual summer camp run by volunteers as well as master classes taught by professional musicians — like world class pianist Lara Downes — both of which, similarly to lessons, are completely free, virtual and open to the public. 

“The whole mission is to spread music,” Mathur said. “That’s how Julia started it; she just found her little sister bored, she wanted to spread music to her, and she spread it to everyone else … QuaranTunes is really important to me because it spreads the opportunity for children to find what they’re passionate about.”

In preparation for Segal’s forthcoming departure to university, the leadership staff of QuaranTunes recently set out to streamline the organizational system of the student-run organization, evenly spreading out work from the Chief Executive Officer to board members like Jeong.

Now, Segal is sure that with the organization’s dedicated and passionate teachers and leaders, QuaranTunes is in great hands.

“I’m 100% sure it’s going to last for many, many, many years,” Segal said.

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