He hasn’t set it down since.
These days, Cross, 21, spends part of his time teaching boys and girls through EN-RICH-MENT, a free music instruction program for Canton’s inner-city youth.
A 2012 McKinley High School grad, Cross is a junior at Kent State University, where he majors in music education, with plans to pursue a master’s degree in music therapy.
On Saturday mornings, he leads about 40 children through the paces of mastering the violin and drums through EN-RICH-MENT classes at the ArtsinStark “church” annex in downtown Canton.
EN-RICH-MENT is the brainchild of Betty Smith, who calls Cross a “blessing.”
“I would like for folks to know that Keith has never given up on his dream to be an African American violinist,” she said. “He has been discouraged along the way. He is a great role model, dedicated and a caring person. I prayed for God to send me someone of color to work with our youth strings, and Keith walked in the door.
“He is a blessing to EN-RICH-MENT by not only being our violin lead instructor but also the lead instructor for our drumline.”
Cross, who plays by ear and by sheet music, was introduced to EN-RICH-MENT in late 2014 when a friend who also teaches there, needed his help in forming a drumline.
Cross, who also plays drums, and practices violin about three hours a day, said it wasn’t always easy to stick with an instrument that most kids don’t play—especially boys.
“It wasn’t always a good thing,” he said. “I got bullied a lot. But it was my safe haven, my friend. It was something about it that made it worth it.”
Cross said that in addition to learning how to play an instrument, music instruction offers children other benefits.
“It requires practice and time, which keeps them out of trouble,” he said. “It’s also very therapeutic. It’s been shown that just 15 minutes a day can make you feel better. It also makes the brain think in a constructive way. It also correlates with math.
“It’s different. Not everyone can do it. It takes skill to become good at it.”
“I Got It” Moments
Cross, who plays in a string quartet, cites a number of musical influences, including Friedrich Seitz, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven.
“I listen to a lot of people,” he said. “I like Miri Ben-Ari, who’s a hip-hop violinist. My mom bought me her CD, and I learned to play the entire thing.”
Cross also visits middle schools in Akron that he attended to assist his former music teachers.
The most rewarding thing about teaching music?
“That ‘I got it’ moment on their faces,” Cross said, “To see where everything you’ve learned, they’re starting to understand.”
The most challenging?
“The different skill levels,” Cross replied. “And the challenges of some kids’ home lives. But it’s very rewarding and worth it. All of it.”
Cross plans to become a music therapist, specializing in working with special-needs children and the elderly.
“People understand music better,” he said.