(Appeared on front page of Fairfield Sun and Bpt News 10/28)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Bridgeport, CT – Believing young people to be the future of music, non-profit Music for Youth (MFY) has been offering two notable programs to bring outstanding artists to work hands-on with public school music classes and foster collaboration between inner city and suburban-based music students.
Originally an offshoot of an adult chamber music program founded in 1933 called South Shore Music, MFY had conducted a School Residency Program in suburban schools in Westport, Weston, Trumbull, Fairfield and Redding since 1995. Based on its success, in 2003, MFY decided to introduce the program in Bridgeport at Central High School, Park City Magnet School and High Horizons/Multi-Cultural Magnet Schools. Behind the effort is Marianne Liberatore, Dorothy Straub and Cynthia Cummiskey, the President, Vice President and Secretary of MFY’s Board respectively.
Straub, a Bridgeport resident, spearheaded the expansion, bringing to the table her expertise and vast knowledge of music education, as well as her connections with area festivals, orchestras and music programs. Straub also had strong ties to Bridgeport schools and teachers and had personally seen the need.
Fundraising to support the effort was a first priority. “We sought donations from individuals, companies and foundations interested in bringing music to young people, then coordinated with teachers and administrators,” explained Cummiskey. “We also contracted an excellent ensemble, Enso String Quartet, to make onsite visits periodically throughout the year.” The Manhattan-based, Grammy-nominated quartet is internationally known and shares MFY’s goal to incorporate music into young people’s lives.
Enso started working with the students to improve their playing, help with technique and serve as role models. “Most of these students had never heard a professional string quartet before,” said Cummiskey about the Bridgeport music students. “The Residency Program gives them the opportunity to not only meet professionals, but to hear them play and receive guidance on improving their skills.”
In the 2010-2011 school year, the quartet will visit Bridgeport schools on ten separate occasions, beginning October 19. “There’s always a wonderful acceptance of this music by the students,” said Cummiskey, “because the quartet is, first of all, so wonderful at playing, but also warm, kind and interactive. They engage the students, both in playing and conversation, at whatever level the students have achieved.”
At every school visit, the quartet plays a piece from the classical repertoire focusing on a different composer each time – Haydn, Mozart, Beethhoven, etc. MFY provides students with a short written bio about the featured composer, with questions to be answered by students by the time of the next visit. This provides a literary component to the program. The quartet then plays the pieces the students are currently working on so they can hear how the songs are really supposed to sound. Finally, the quartet works on the pieces with the children, focusing on any challenges like rhythm, bowing, ensemble, etc. At a school like High Horizons, the quartet spends three hours onsite in the morning dividing its time into four 40-minute sessions to serve grades 5 through 8. Then the quartet will go to another school in the afternoon, to work with students there.
Cummiskey noted, “The quartet may be the most consistent group of professionals that students encounter through their middle school years, given changes in teacher staffing and administration year to year. And every year we’re thrilled that the quartet keeps coming back.”
From the Residency Program, a Musical Exchange Program between inner city and suburban music students emerged. “Four years ago, I had the idea to initiate a musical exchange,” said Cummiskey. “This is my big thing as I live in the suburbs (Redding) and have young children that study music (15-year-old son Cormac plays cello, piano and electric bass while 11-year-old son Declam plays violin, piano and trombone). I wanted children like mine to make connections through music with kids in other environments.”
“I see music as a fantastic common language that all kids can understand and share,” added Cummiskey, “and with music, they can overcome other barriers that may seem to separate them.” This view is in step with MFY beliefs that music has the power to help young people overcome differences, cement similarities and provide a more fulfilling life for every child. Recent studies support the mission, showing that music can help enhance a child’s educational experience, improve discipline, spur self-expression and foster emotional well-being.
During the first year of the exchange program, students from John Read Middle School in Redding were paired with students from High Horizons/Multi-Cultural Magnet Schools in a joint orchestra. The groups traveled to each other’s schools for rehearsal and even coaching and guidance from Enso Quartet, which leant itself to this program as well.
“Some of the Bridgeport students had not traveled as far north as Redding in their lives and were very excited about the experience,” said Cummiskey. “Similarly, the Redding students, who had not had a previous experience in Bridgeport, were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the kids and school environment.”
Cummiskey noted, “Really, the exchange program does more than help develop music skills. It helps prepare kids for real-world situations and diverse people they will encounter as adults.”
After the program’s successful start in Redding, MFY decided to approach the Weston school system with the opportunity. The Weston Middle School music teacher at the time, Franz Ryersohn, was very excited and worked closely with MFY. Chloe Groth has replaced the retired Ryersohn and been equally dedicated.
Groth’s counterpart in Bridgeport, Aaron Lofaro, is a “dynamic young teacher who is bringing his students to levels they haven’t achieved before,” according to Cummiskey.
On the very last day of the exchange program, in May, the Weston students travel to Bridgeport for a big rehearsal. Then the joint orchestra plays three pieces while the Enso Quartet plays one selection. Students announce each number and the whole school and parents attend. The entire troupe then travels to Weston for a celebratory lunch and performs the whole concert again for an audience there. Cummiskey said, “It’s a long day but an amazing time for everyone.”
Fundraising is key to the continuance of programs like the Residency and Musical Exchange programs. Each year, the amount of money raised determines the number of visits by the Quartet and the extent of the program. This year, MFY received a sizeable grant from Chamber Music America, which covered a great deal of, though not all, operating costs. This included expanding the number of Enso Quartet onsite visits from six to 10 this year – about one visit per month.
For any individual or organization that would like to support these programs, contact Music for Youth at 203-227-1611 or Marianne Liberatore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Enso Quartet Provides Hands-On Music Instruction at Magnet Schools
Bridgeport, CT – Though they were meeting each other for the first time, the three dozen 5th grade students of Bridgeport’s High Horizons and Multi-Cultural Magnet Schools and the accomplished foursome that comprise the Enso String Quartet seemed instantly comfortable in the schools’ band room setting.
This was the first session of the 2010-2011 season of a Residency Program made possible for the past seven years at the schools through the efforts of non-profit Music for Youth. This school year, the program will enable the quartet to make 10 onsite visits to supplement music instruction they are already receiving from music teacher Aaron Lofaro.
“When holding the bow, it’s very important to remember to be relaxed,” coached cellist Richard Belcher, demonstrating bow technique at the front of the room.
“Make a circle with your thumb and index finger/pointer finger,” chimed in viola player Melissa Reardon.
Quizzed about why bow technique is important, student Toni-Lyn Turner, 10, said, “Good bow hold is important for posture and so it won’t slide.” Added Sarah Hernandez, 10, “And it won’t sound right otherwise.”
Standing nearby, Melissa Jenkins, High Horizons’ principal, commented, “I think it’s wonderful that the students have an opportunity to be mentored by professionals. The quartet’s willingness to invest their time is amazing.”
Lofaro has been equally impressed with the program. “They are fantastic and inspiration that you can have a career in the performing arts.”
The 40-minute 5th grade session was the first of four on this first visit day. Grades 6 to 8 would also enjoy equal time with the quartet. Each class group had a different level of skill and the older children had experienced the quartet in the past. In its session, for example, the 8th grade worked on the “Star Wars” theme, receiving note-by-note bow positioning reminders from the quartet.
“It’s great to see how far the older students have come,” said Belcher. “We just heard that a student has joined the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestra. If that’s the first of several, then that’s proof that this is successful.”
From the students’ perspective, 12-year-old Briana McDonald best summed up the experience. “When I see them play, it makes me see how I can improve and how I’d like to play in the future.”