Musicopia Young String Players have opportunities to be leaders and grow as musicians
June 2019…The Musicopia String Orchestra program, founded in 2005, is one of Musicopia’s out-of-school programs and is based on the philosophy that participating in serious, long-term musical endeavors can have a transformative impact on students. The program offers three levels of ensembles to accommodate a range of playing abilities for students aged 7-18: the Musicopia String Orchestra (MSO) as the primary ensemble, the Musicopia Chamber Orchestra, presented by Rothman Orthopaedics, for MSO’s more advanced players, and the Musicopia Young String Players (MYSP) for entry-level and younger players.
This past year, thanks in part to support from ACMP Associated Chamber Music Players, the MSO program was able to create a double quartet (octet) made up of MYSP players. The octet has received special coaching and has performed for numerous Musicopia events in the 2018-19 school year including the High Note High Step breakfast with keynote speaker Dr. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, and a series of performances in Musicopia’s Title 1 “Adopt-A-Schools.” The Adopt-A-School (AAS) program helps struggling schools bring the many benefits of music education to their students and, thanks to a renewed three year commitment from the William Penn Foundation, AAS expanded from ten to twelve Title 1 schools in the 2017-18 school year.
One such performance of the MYSP octet at an Adopt-A-School took place on May 3, 2019 at Henry C. Lea Elementary School for an audience of more than 20 string students. However, this was not just a “performance,” but also an opportunity for Lea’s string students to learn about what it means to play chamber music. The MYSP octet began by performing one of its pieces, and then the Lea students had a chance to interact with the MYSP students to ask questions, identify the instruments, and even learn a piece of music which they all performed together at the end of the class time. “It’s really nice for the MYSP children to see what’s going on in different schools and, obviously for the school children, it’s good for guest artists to come in and get a new energy. It’s been a really nice exchange,” said Ashley Vines, the MSO viola and MYSP quartet coach.
One of the MYSP octet students, 13-year old Aljavar, has been playing violin in the MSO program for three years, and is also finishing his first year as a PMAY Artist. PMAY, or Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth Artists’ Initiative, is a project that supports 5th-12th grade students from underrepresented communities and low-income households to pursue their dream of becoming a professional classical musician. “I like performing in schools with other kids and I like telling people about myself so they can know more and understand why I play the violin and why I’m in the octet,” he said. “I like playing the violin and I like playing in the orchestra. I also like going to the Kimmel center and watching The Philadelphia Orchestra play….. This one guy had so many solos, and it was really amazing. I want to be just like him when I grow up.” Daniela Pierson, MSO’s Artistic Director, said that Aljavar leads the quartet beautifully and does a great job in the presentations.
In addition to the in-school performances, another benefit of participating in the MYSP octet has been extra rehearsal time, which has helped the players to improve as musicians and leaders. “I definitely think that having this extra experience has helped to build their confidence and make them stronger leaders. I think it’s a positive experience overall,” said Ashley. “They have the opportunity to meet other students [at in-school performances] and I hope it makes them love music even more than they did before.” Aljavar agrees that the experience of playing in the MYSP octet has helped him to be a better player. “Being in the octet helped me be a lot better. Last school year when I played, I kind of played nervously. One time when I was playing for my school I messed up because of how nervous I was, but when I started playing more, I started to improve,” he said. “I also like to do extra stuff and get out of the house instead of just sitting down and playing video games.” Another MYSP octet player, 11-year old Promise, has seen the benefits of participating in this extra ensemble as well, and has enjoyed the interaction with students from other schools. “Being in the octet helped me improve as a musician by working with other kids and the teachers, so they can tell me what I can improve….we can work together to improve our playing.”
Participating in the MSO program and MYSP octet also provides an outlet for its members to positively express themselves. “I like playing violin and music in general because it helps me express myself in a way I can’t do with talking,” said Promise. “Like if I’m mad, sometimes I just want to play and crunch the bow real hard on the violin and if I’m happy, I play real soft music and I play happy music.” Coach Ashley has also observed the positive effects of participating in such a supportive music-education environment. “The students in the quartet have really grown as musicians and as leaders in their own groups. When you play chamber music you have to take a lot of ownership in your music making and you have to kind of be self-conducted and self-led,” she said. “A lot of these players have taken the initiative to really be leaders of the group and to really be able to express their musical ideas and to show good examples and to help their peers. It’s been amazing to see their confidence grow and their musical terminology and all their ability just grow by being part of this chamber music experience.”
The Musicopia String Orchestra ensembles rehearse weekly at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. If you would like to support the MSO program, please text “4STRINGS” to 443-21 or click here.
By Talia Yellin Fisher