Major Chords gets major upgrade with new location

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This summer saw the ever-growing local nonprofit organization Major Chords for Minors opening a new location in downtown Saginaw.

The program, which provides free music lessons of different varieties for eight to 18 year olds, has seen enough growth since its inception in 2011 to warrant moving to a brand new facility located in the First Congregational Church on South Jefferson Avenue. The program has grown from merely eight children during its early days to over two hundred and counting.

Homegrown Saginaw resident John Vowell created the Major Chords for Minors program with his wife, Katrina, back in 2011 in hopes of providing a much needed service to a community with a less-than-stellar reputation.

Shortly after the nonprofit began, some SVSU students chose the program as a part of the student-initiated Foundation Scholars Service-Learning (2012) and Roberts Fellowship (2013) programs. Through those programs, the first being spearheaded by Brian Thomas, director of Global Engagement at SVSU, Major Chords for Minors received various services, including grants that were eventually used to provide new drumming equipment, painting supplies and lighting fixtures.

“John and Katrina are dedicated, passionate individuals,” Thomas said. “I think that both groups they ended up working with were students who appreciated the passion that (they) brought to the table, and I think that John and Katrina were good about supporting the students.”

Thomas made it clear that both of Major Chords for Minors founders were willing and able to collaborate with students, a task that is difficult in nature and therefore one that is often not committed to. This type of attention, however small, was a large source of inspiration for the Vowells as they began their road to where they are now.

“That was the first time we sort of had tears in our eyes, listening to these young adults present our program,” John said. “To hear someone else sort of give my spiel … it’s moving.”

Much like Thomas’ students, Professor of Music Jane Girdham latched on to the creativity and drive that the Vowells possessed. In 2013, Girdham approached John in an attempt to set up a collaboration with the SVSU music department in which Girdham would begin a choir program within Major Chords for Music.

That program within a program is still in effect, and Girdham even took the initiative to introduce her students to the organization, which led to a handful of her students, under Girdham’s guidance, to instruct the choir courses.

John views moving to the newer, larger location with overwhelming positivity, as programs like his are not only uncommon in Michigan, but are also rare across the entire country. It is through the vessel of music that Vowell is able to facilitate the goals of caring and passionate individuals, such as himself and the students and staff of SVSU, which allows the program to grow exponentially.

“(Music) is everything to you kids,” he said. “Without music, I don’t know how a human being could function with a happy, warm heart and these children are starving for love.”

To donate to Major Chords for Minors, visit