Music program transforms lives of L.A. children

The Harmony Project aims to help at-risk youth in Los Angeles, like 16-year-old Scotty Way.
CBS News

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES -- Music has the power to soothe the soul, raise the spirit and, in the case of a Los Angeles teenager, lift a life out of poverty.

"I love music," says Scotty Way. "I just feel my heart beat."

When you look at the hurdles facing 16-year-old Scotty, you might see another grim statistic. He's poor, his mother, Cheryl, is on welfare-to-work and he's from inner-city Los Angeles. But Scotty has found a way to transcend those challenges.

"Music is beautiful," Scotty says. "It's been here with me -- been here through all my troubles. It is like my homey, my friend. We can just talk. He'll talk and I'll listen."

He began his conversation with music at age five, when his mother saw a flier for free violin lessons. That led them to the Harmony Project, a program in L.A.'s most troubled neighborhoods that puts instruments in children's hands before the rampant gang culture puts a gun in them.

"It has been difficult for us as a family to kind of survive sometimes," Cheryl Way says.

Cheryl came to Hollywood seeking fame. After seven children and a failed marriage, all she found were hard times.

"We have moved 28 times," Cheryl says.

"At one point we lived in the offices of, um, the Harmony Project," adds Scotty.

Through all of their troubles, the one constant presence in Scotty's world was music.

"Music is like my meditation," he says. "Music has just opened my eyes."

Myka Miller, the executive director of Harmony Project and Scotty's teacher, says music has been a thread throughout Scotty's life.

The charity, which started with 36 students, now has 1,500 and has a waiting list of 900. Almost all of the students go on to college.

"Music is the vehicle we use to transform kids, to get them through school, to get them to go to college, to teach them to be role models," Miller says. "They become mentors to younger students."

Scotty plans to be a teacher -- or a marine biologist or international businessman.

"I can do it, I know I can," he says.