Music education inner city disadvantaged youth
I was just hoping to maybe let Mr. Ma know how many children he had inspired, with this story… (And maybe someone has some musical pointers for me!!!!)
I first heard of Yo Yo Ma when we were all kids, graduating high school in 1971. My best friend, Elise, attended PCS (professional children’s school) with him. She just was so excited for me to hear him play at graduation. She was a talented violinist and had taught us all on the block how to play various instruments; we had had concerts in her parents’ apartment. But she was my only teacher, just a kid herself. I went on to classical dance, have taught for 40 years, my students grace professional stages across the world, but I’ve always tried to teach those with less financial means, always creating a scholarship program.
One day I was on the subway, carrying a broken violin, with no bridge and one string, as a prop for an arts appreciation class at an inner city school in Brooklyn. A woman came up to me and asked me to come start a strings program at their church. It had been their dream for years. I remember saying I’d tried to find someone for them. All my musical friends weren’t interested, but I had given my e-mail address and this young woman wouldn’t be dissuaded. I went out to the church, traveling an hour and a half one way, to an area of Brooklyn, where usually I am the only white person I see on the long walk to the church. I at first figured I would explain in person how little I could do for them. I remember mentioning my only connection to music was my best friend as kid.
Somehow they convinced me to start the program. Their earnestness and dedication was hard to ignore. I worked so hard to try to learn all I could (thank God for the internet!) , usually just learning the theory before I taught it in class, but somehow the kids practiced like crazy and worked so hard, it has been inspiring. We started ear-training and I realized one family of children all had perfect pitch, just like my best friend growing up. Their father worked at LaGuardia as a baggage handler, and one Christmas had bought the kids a keyboard, it must have been the family prized possession, because all the kids had taught themselves to play, and recogninzed pitch and note intervals like old friends. Soon they were helping me with the massive job of tuning the instruments for all the others.
The church elders called it a miracle, and I’m not prone to being overly religious, but sometimes I think that the children’s success in the face of such improbability speaks of some kind of miracle. The advanced quintet is quite something, and they are now (thank goodness!) applying to real music schools in the city, and hopefully will find a real music teacher for their talent.
I’m still not much a violinist, I don’t have much time to practice. But the kids! One young man, who now, after three years, towers over me, studied and studied Yo Yo’s rendition of the Bach cello suite no. 1. It is so moving to hear him play his viola rendition! And his kid sister’s violin Bach partita! Wow!
The program is of course lacking real funding, I am broke myself, but can’t stop going out there to teach these talented kids. It’s a crazy, long story, but maybe someone out there would like to hear them play. And maybe Mr. Ma will be touched by how much he inspired us all, even if so indirectly.
Swing into Spring with Strings
Classical Concert: Excerpts of Bach, Mozart, Brahms.
Saturday, April 21, 2012 @ 2:00pm
God’s Battalion Church
661 Linden Blvd., Bklyn., NY
tickets $10- to support the music program.