Andrew Sargeant is a young man with many dreams. The 10th-grader at Englewood Academies, a public high school program for gifted students in Englewood, wants to design space ships for NASA someday. But, before that, he says, he is determined to run track for the United States at the ’01’ Olympics. These plans, Andrew vows, won’t deter him from keeping up with the flute, which he’s been studying seriously in a unique music program for Englewood public school children at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades Thurnauer School of Music in neighboring Tenafly. Perhaps, says Andrew, he would join the college orchestra or play in a chamber group, while majoring in aerospace engineering and training for the Olympics. "Rhythm is a good tie-in with math," he notes.
From left are Music Discovery students Ya’sin Ali, Jonah Bern, Eugene Brown Jr., Joshua Gilbert, Atiya Ali, and Malaika Manning.
Andrew, who has been in the Music Discovery Program since third grade, is learning more than music at the JCC; the friendships he’s formed with other students there have introduced him to the laws of kashrut and to the powerful Jewish value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming the unfamiliar guest.
Hundreds of other young people in Englewood, a city with a substantial minority and economically disadvantaged population as well as a growing Orthodox community, have benefited from this extraordinary partnership between Thurnauer and the Englewood public schools Carolina Duque, for example, one of the first two students to have graduated from the program in June. A flutist like Andrew, Carolina, in her freshman year at Rutgers University, intends to be a vet. Growing up with a single mother who spoke little English, Carolina often relied on Wendy Stern, her flute teacher, to pick her up and bring her home from her after-school lessons at the JCC. "We were on top of things to enable her to come here. When people see you care about them, they respond, and it was mutual," says Dorothy Roffman, Thurnauer’s director.
Roffman conceived the program in 1997 as part of the school’s mission as a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and as a reflection of the JCC’s commitment to the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. "Thurnauer aims to bring music and the opportunity to learn about music to as broad a community as possible," she says. "There are no auditions to get into a community music school. It’s not about talent, but about learning and experience. Everyone who wants to learn is welcome. A community music school is a resource for the community at large."
One community benefit is the interaction between the Englewood public school students and the students from other towns, as well as the Englewood Jewish day-school kids. African American and Asian American children learn about Jewish culture in the most natural way, Rothman notes, visiting and attending bar and bat mitzvahs with their music-school friends.
When she launched the program, Roffman arranged for Thurnauer faculty to visit elementary schools in several local districts, including Englewood’s, that lacked classical music instruction. But, says Roffman, "We realized that if we created something with greater depth, we might be supporting a group of children in the best way possible." So she decided to focus on Englewood. Now, with funding from a mix of public and private sources (Englewood’s ‘1st-Century Learning Communities and New Jersey After 3 Grants; Community Chest; CIBC World Markets’ "Miracle Day"; KT Communities; Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Lillian P. Schenck Fund; and the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey), the Thurnauer program has become an intensive partnership. Leslie Eaton, the coordinator of Englewood’s after-school program, says, "The partnership is wonderful. We all want more, more, more, and each year gets better and better."
More than ’50 children are served by a three-level program of increasing scope and depth. Chamber Music Express, for all third-graders in the district’s two elementary schools, is a week-long residency led by a string quartet of young professionals and designed by the classroom teachers and musicians as a supplement to reading and math instruction. CME’s goal is to whet students’ appetites. After just a week, children are making observations about a Vivaldi piece.
The next stage, Music Discovery Program I, for fourth-graders, puts instruments right into children’s hands with a full year subsidized after-school program at the two schools. This phase offers two parallel tracks: Choosing an Instrument or Group Violin. Both tracks include musicianship and chorus. Children on the Choosing an Instrument track have a chance to bring home a different instrument every six weeks. At this stage, says Roffman, "it isn’t about learning to play, but about learning whether the chemistry between you and an instrument is good. It’s like meeting a person, a very emotional thing. Brass feels different from wood when you hold it, or you may love the sound of one, but not another."
Music Discovery Program II, a scholarship program of private lessons plus musicianship, theory, and ensemble classes for fifth- to 1’th-graders, takes place year round at the Thurnauer School.
The program costs between $’,660 and $4,160 a year per child, depending on the instrument, says Roffman. The partnership operates on a $’00,000 annual budget, just barely enough to sustain current participants for eight to 10 years of music education, from the time they are 8 years old through 18.
All the children and their families (who make a substantial investment of time, if not money, in their children’s commitment to music) attend professional concerts, master classes, and special events at the JCC throughout the year. For example, renowned violinist Maxim Vengerov ran a pre-performance workshop in which he told the children about his sometimes arduous childhood in Russia and even played and danced for them. The school showcases the children’s own accomplishments in recitals and an annual spring concert.
The Dennis family, with three out of four siblings in the program, may be the best example of the impact the program has had on an entire household. Jacob, 13, on viola, Olivia, 1′, a cellist, and Rebecca, 8, who plays the violin, often play together at home. They are their own chamber group, says their mother, Elizabeth. "Now they are trying to come up with a name," she says, laughing.
"We have many more children who want to come than we can afford," Roffman laments. "We would like to endow the program so it can be secure forever. It would make a huge, huge difference."
A version of this piece first appeared in the JCCA Circle.