|Melissa Romanovich with “Musical Notes” students.|
Music has always been very important to 17-year-old Melissa Romanovich of Tenafly. Three years ago, the Tenafly High School senior, who calls music “a vital part of my childhood,” decided to share that passion with others.
“I had always been exposed to music, both in and out of school,” she said. Romanovich, who is a singer and pianist, also is a member of Tenafly’s Temple Sinai and president of the shul’s SFTY youth group.
Wanting other children to have the same exposure to music that she had been given, she got in touch with a number of schools that didn’t have music programs, offering her services as an afterschool teacher.
Melissa – who has played piano since she was a child and participated in every music and theater program offered by her various schools – said the principals she reached were understandably wary. After all, she was a 14-year-old high school freshman.
“I contacted many superintendents and after-school coordinators,” she said. “I didn’t get a lot of responses at first. But fortunately, one school in Englewood, the Dr. John Grieco Elementary School, gave me a chance.”
After a successful stint at the Grieco school, Romanovich taught music at the Bergen Family Center summer camp, working with five groups of 20 students each. After that, she talked to superintendents once again.
Today, Melissa and the 12 high school volunteers she has recruited teach music to hundreds of students in nine churches, family centers, and elementary and middle schools in Englewood, Norwood, Hackensack, Union City, Hoboken, and Teaneck.
Throughout the year, the volunteers visit these various locations to teach basic music theory, vocal performance, and Broadway show tunes to students, who range from 4 to 12 years old, during after-school and summer camp hours.
The curriculum she has designed for her program, formally dubbed “Musical Notes,” culminates each semester in a performance put on by students. Since much of her work is with younger children, “I try to make it as ‘do-able’ as possible,” she said, noting that children sing in unison.
“Music has always been a cathartic form of expression for me,” she said. “In tough times I have turned to music to guide me. It’s an important thing for kids to look to when going through a rough time.” And, she added, it’s an enjoyable pastime.
Romanovich said that despite a busy schedule, “I make time for this. It’s become a very important part of my life.”
Her mother – who also is extremely busy, she said – makes time for it as well, driving Romanovich to the many places she serves in a half-dozen school districts.
“I’ve gotten fantastic feedback,” she said. “Every time I walk in, the kids’ faces light up. I’ve seen changes in the kids from the first day to the present.”
The genre of music she presents, classic Broadway show tunes, “is a new world for them,” she said, noting her own passion for that kind of music.
A classical pianist studying songwriting and modern piano technique at the Manhattan School of Music, Romanovich ““ who has taught between 400 and 500 students during the past four years – said her teaching project is formally sponsored by City Lore, a nonprofit group in Manhattan that works to preserve the arts.
While City Lore does not provide any funds, it offers a rubric under which she will be able to raise money for the music program to buy materials such as scripts and CDs. According to Romanovich, the schools themselves provide only the space, a piano, and a supervising faculty member.
She seems a bit surprised by the great success of her project.
“I didn’t know what would happen, but I was hopeful that it would work out,” she said. “I didn’t know how it would be received, but I didn’t expect it to be as big as it is now or the influence it would have on me.”
Still waiting to decide which college to attend, Romanovich said her preferred major would combine theater studies and English. To ensure the continuity of her program – which she will bring with her to local schools surrounding whatever college she ultimately chooses – she continues to enlist younger high school volunteers as music teachers and to reach out to more schools.
Her goal, she said, is “to recruit still more high school students from neighboring areas.”
Romanovich said she wants to “implement more arts education in the face of budget cuts in the public school system. Their greatest target is arts education. It’s imperative to volunteer to teach.”
But if Musical Notes has helped area children, it also has benefited its founder.
“It’s been a growth experience for me as well,” Romanovich said, noting that over the past four years she has devoted some 700 hours to community service.
“I love it,” she said. “I love that kids are learning music, especially kids who have not been exposed to it.”
For more information about Musical Notes, go to http://musicalnotesorg.weebly.com/index.html.