Spreading Joy

There are many ways that people connect with one another, but music is one way that spans generations. It’s what led sixteen-year-old Joseph Zhong, a junior at Millard North High School, to start his own music group, the Dreams Quartet, which later expanded into the Joy Group—a volunteer program in which Zhong teaches students and then they perform pieces together for retirement communities throughout the area.

Edge: When did you first start playing an instrument?

Joseph: I started off playing guitar and then clarinet. In third grade I started playing violin and fell in love with that and kept at it. But I’ve been performing since first grade, when I danced with the Nebraska Chinese Association.

Edge: When did you come up with the idea for the Joy Group?

Joseph: I started performing on my own in eighth grade, and then a few of my friends wanted to join me a year later so we formed the Dreams Quartet. A month after that we formed the Joy Group for elementary kids who wanted to perform but didn’t play an instrument yet. So I started teaching them.

Edge: Why did you decide to perform at retirement communities?

Joseph: There’s nothing better than seeing people smile while we perform. It helps us connect with one another. And the part I love most is talking to the elderly people after a concert and hearing how the music impacts them. Usually it brings back a happy memory for them and they comment on what a good experience it was. It’s really special.

Edge: How many students are in the Joy Group?

Joseph: There are between 20-30 people at any given time. It’s a lot to coordinate. I choose most of the music but also work with a piano teacher and a saxophone teacher for the kids who play those instruments since I don’t play them. We perform about 10 times per year.

Edge: Can anyone join the Joy Group?

Joseph: Yes, anyone can join as long as they are at least seven years old, and they can be from any school. We have kids from Millard, Westside, and even UNO.

Edge: Do you perform anywhere other than retirement communities?

Joseph: I perform with the Omaha Symphony during Christmas. It’s a lot of time and work, but it’s also a stress reliever from school.

Edge: What will happen to the Joy Group after you graduate from high school?

Joseph: I’m currently training someone to take over my role. In the beginning I just wanted to perform, but then it grew into this whole program, and I hope it will be sustainable.

Edge: What other activities are you involved in?

Joseph: I also run track and cross country for Millard North and am the vice president of the Math Club and participate in the science bowl.

Edge: What are your plans for the future?

Joseph: I’m thinking about going into either banking or cyber security. But music is such a big part of my life, no matter what I do, I can’t see music ever not being a part of it.

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