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August 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Music education

Famous violinist sets ‘Fiddles on Fire’ with PS 58 students

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A few weeks before summer break, lucky fourth and fifth grade students from PS 58, The Carroll School, had a unique opportunity to share the stage with world-renowned violinist David Garrett when he stopped by the Brooklyn school.

His visit was made possible by the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to restoring instrumental music programs to America’s public schools and raising awareness about the importance of music education in the lives of children. The school’s Extended Day String Orchestra welcomed Garrett — a Juilliard-trained musician who is widely known for combining classical and rock genres, and who started playing the violin when he was 4 and had performed professionally by fourth grade — with “Prelude” from The Apollo Suite. They followed with “Fiddles on Fire,” chosen specifically for Garrett, who set the world’s record for fastest violinist by playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” in 1 minute, 6.56 seconds — that’s 13 notes per second!

Garrett played along with the students for “Fiddles on Fire.” Eleven-year-old Sofia Misner Baluyut has studied the cello for the past three years, and, despite hours of practicing before and after school, she admitted that she was nervous playing in front of such an accomplished musician. But the virtuoso did something that surprised her.

“When David Garret was playing ‘Fiddles on Fire’ along with us, he made a mistake by forgetting to repeat! He is truly an amazing artist, but I suppose when you haven’t practiced a song, it can be difficult, even for an expert,” she says. Baluyut also attended Garrett’s master class where he taught students to focus on their attitudes and to simply have fun with what they were playing.

The students were excited to see Garrett perform popular songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Smooth Criminal.”

“I want kids to see how much great classical music is out there,” said the thirtysomething violinist. “I think [that] because I’m younger, it makes it more accessible. Once a younger generation sees music they recognize with classical music, I hope that they see classical music has so much to offer. I would never want to push people, though. They need to enjoy it, feel it, and have that drive [in] them to put the time and dedication in that helps them get better.”

Sylar Louch, a fifth-grade violinist, asked Garrett about his music and career and about the history of the Save The Music Foundation at her school. She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to learn an instrument, acknowledging that many children never get that chance.

“It was a delight to have David Garrett visit PS 58,” said music teacher Matthew Sanislo. “I think everyone who saw him perform was absolutely blown away, and we could not thank the VH1 Save The Music Foundation more for their gracious support of our school’s music program!” All of the fourth and fifth graders who were involved with the string program, as well as their teachers and the parents of those who performed, attended.

PS 58’s music department wasn’t always this fortunate. Fifteen years ago, former president of VH1, John Sykes, volunteered as Principal for a Day at The Carroll School. He observed the students in the music program struggling, because the instruments were in such poor condition — most of them being held together by duct tape. His first thought was to adopt the school and replace the instruments, but the problem was much bigger. The school’s music program was being cut. All over the nation, similar programs were being eliminated because funding was no longer available. So the VH1 Save The Music Foundation was established to bring them back. The Carroll School became the first VH1 Save The Music Foundation grant recipient in 1997.

Paul Cothran, vice president and executive director of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, explains the idea behind its mission.

“Research data has shown us that studying a musical instrument, just participating in the exercise of making music, has a significant beneficial impact for students. It helps them to develop critical-thinking and cognitive skills; it also helps to improve their performance in other subjects such as math and reading, and students tend to score higher on standardized tests. It further aids students in developing important life skills such as self-discipline, expression, focus, ability to work in teams, and perseverance.

“Perhaps most importantly of all,” continued Cothran, “we hear from the students and teachers that reintroducing music study in the curriculum helps to keep students engaged in school. Students were more interested in staying in school and less likely to be involved in activities like gangs or drugs. Music education is important in public education because as a standards-based, sequentially taught part of a core curriculum, it ensures equitable access for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to these benefits of music education.

“Reestablis­hing music programs in schools gets the schools back to a place where they want to be — providing a comprehensive education that develops the whole individual.”

Since the VH1 Save The Music Foundation was established, it has provided $48 million in new musical instruments to 1,800 public schools in more than 100 cities, benefiting the lives of more than 1.8 million children.

During the month of March 2013, which is the nationally proclaimed “Music in Our Schools” month, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation will host the second-annual Free Family Fun Day, a chance for children and families to discover and explore music, on March 9 at the Anderson School in Manhattan.

Second-annual Free Family Fun Day at the Anderson School [100 W. 77th St. between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues in Manhattan, vh1savethemusic.com/sites/default/files/Literature/FAMILYDAY2013.pdf]. March 9, 10 am – 4 pm. Free.

Laura Varoscak-DeInnocentiis is an educator and freelance writer. Her articles appear regularly in Brooklyn Family Magazine and have won editorial awards from Parent Publications of America. She holds master’s degrees in writing, education and psychology. Varoscak-DeInnocentiis lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and is the proud mom of two sons, Henry and Charlie.

Posted 12:00 am, August 7, 2012
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