One of the first things children are taught to say at Silver Music is "I like chocolate ice cream. " While this may seem like a way to enhance a kid's sweet tooth, it is actually a clever method of teaching one of the primary rhythms of the Suzuki method. "We used to have ice cream parties at the end of the year, " the founder, Ellen Silver, told me. "We didn't want to torture the children by just talking about ice cream all year – but now there are just too many students. "Ellen, a cellist who has worked as a teacher with the internationally recognized "Music Together" program, has always been fascinated by the way very young children approach instruments. Every child is different, but she noticed patterns of learning that she believed would help her better prepare toddlers for music lessons. She started out in 2005 with a class of five students in her Upper West Side apartment and began teaching them the beginning stages of piano, cello and violin. This involved singing, holding a bow, improvisation exercises, and learning how to take directions. "Those children are now fourteen or fifteen, and they still come to Silver Music! " Ellen said proudly. Though Silver Music has since expanded by offering programs for all ages, that beginner's class, called "Ready, Set, Play, " is still a major component of the school. There are at most four kids in the class, generally from two to four years old. "Over time they want to learn how to play an instrument the right way, " Ellen explained to me. "And that means they are ready for lessons. " Though the classes still focus on violin, cello, and piano, she is thinking of possibly adding guitar into the mix. With a strong core of instructors, Silver Music is able to offer lessons to well over one hundred students, as well as another seventy who come specifically for "Ready, Set, Play. ""All of our teachers are amazing performers, but they are passionate about teaching, " Ellen shared. She then went on to tell me that she moved the school to 72nd street in 2014 with the help of her husband, who is an architect. Because of what we do at Manhattan Sideways, it was interesting to hear that the two of them walked the side streets in this neighborhood in order to find the perfect location. When they found their home on 72nd street, they redesigned the space and sound-proofed it. Ellen assured me that the residents of the building love them, especially since many of them are musicians, themselves. In addition to the main center, Silver Music has a one-room location on Tiemann Place in Harlem and does outreach programs at two different preschools. I looked in through the window, grinning from ear to ear, at the young children holding their tiny instruments. Ellen told me that kids can be taught to hold a bow at the age of two. "It's just so amazing to see them develop these skills that you may not have known they could have, " she said, and showed me a video of one of her youngest students sliding a small bow along the strings of a Lilliputian violin. I was pleased to discover that many of their small instruments come from David Segal, whom I had met a few weeks prior. Ellen uses a variety of methods to teach the children. She encourages them to love and respect their instruments (often through song – she sang a snippet of the "I love my cello" song for me), but she also inspires them to explore. She lets them see what new sounds they can make, asking them fun questions like, "How do you make a slippery slide on the cello? " She urges them to discover their own way of playing, and then gently introduces a new way. Ellen also uses elements of the Dalcroze method, an approach to music that incorporates movement. It was fascinating to learn that by showing them to how to explore music with their bodies, Ellen can better teach small children how to read and write music. Using strokes for long beats and connected strokes for short beats, she creates a physical and literary code that children can understand. Each long beat is a stomp, whereas the quick beats are running in place. Children often learn to write this beat notation by the age of four, and some even learn it before they know how to write letters. There is no doubt in my mind that Ellen and her team are having a remarkable impact on many little ones who will inevitably grow up with a deep appreciation for music. Silver Music has taken into consideration every aspect of reaching people through music. Their classes continue through the summer, when each week ends in a small concert with the campers. They present concerts throughout the year, either held in a family's home or at the American Academy of Arts and Letters on West 155th Street - a place that Ellen describes as a "hidden Carnegie Hall. " Ellen also offers classes to families who want to learn to play an instrument together, and Chamber Music sessions for adults who are eager to be a part of an ensemble. Although, initially, Silver Music's adult clients were the parents of the children, today Ellen is pleased that her grown-up students are coming from various parts of the city - and some young students come to camp from as far away as Massachusetts and Vermont. Ellen's true devotion will always be with respect to her youngest pupils. "Every kid can benefit from our classes.... and we nurture each little avenue. " Students learn to follow directions, concentrate, and develop language skills. She finds great joy in the children who sing and dance almost before they can walk and talk. Her tireless goal is to foster an environment where these children can continue to receive personal attention to allow their particular skill set to grow.
Through the power of music, Daniel's Music Foundation (DMF) has been helping individuals with disabilities to learn, socialize, and, simply, have a great time. In the words of Daniel Trush, the brave inspiration and force behind the foundation, DMF is all about music and "letting people shine. " In 1997, when Daniel was twelve years old, he experienced a brain aneurism that left him in a coma for 30 days, and then in a wheelchair for two years. Prior to the incident, Daniel was a music enthusiast having played both the guitar and the trumpet. Daniel's parents, Ken and Nancy Trush, said that while Daniel was in a coma they would play him his favorite artists as a form of communication. Thankfully, he eventually recovered. While in college as a non-matriculated student, he took a music history class and began to experiment with music as a form of therapy. Inspired by this concept and noticing the lack of music programs available to people with disabilities, Daniel and his parents founded DMF. Their hope was to use music as a means of empowerment bonding between people with disabilities. DMF had humble beginnings. The Trush family started by offering a keyboard class with five members in a basement that they would rent by the hour. Gradually, though, their purpose began to resonate with others, and their membership and funding grew. In 2011, DMF was chosen by the New York Yankees as the honored organization in their annual Hope Week - DMF members were invited to sing the national anthem in Yankee Stadium. This momentous event provided DMF with the coverage they were seeking. Within three weeks, the number of students in their programs increased from 150 to 200. Fast forward a few years later to 2013 when DMF was able to move into a state-of-the-art 8, 700-square-foot facility that is entirely wheelchair accessible and "barrier free. " Equipped with five studios and a plethora of instruments including keyboards, percussion, and guitars, DMF also offers private lessons. Members have gone on to perform at Giants Stadium and Madison Square Garden. In addition, they host some of their own special events including an annual festival with forty performances, dinner dances, and the "DMF underground" composed of artist performances and an open mic. Today, thanks to the dedication of everyone involved, DMF boasts over 300 students and 10, 000 annual visits to its facilities from members of other organizations that support people with disabilities. The foundation gauges its success based on a metric created by Daniel that it takes very seriously: "the smile-o-meter, " meant to measure the "changes in attitudes and outlook" reported by its members. For the Trush family, however, it is equally important to build a bridge between the students and the greater community. "We're about music, but also about awareness. "
Both a space of learning and of performing, Kaufman Music Center is home to Merkin Concert Hall, Lucy Moses School, and Special Music School. The organization was founded in 1953 and receives most of its funding through donations from music enthusiasts. The Merkin Concert Hall has been around since the 1970s and was renovated with the rest of the building in 2007. Vocal and acoustic performances of classical and new music send resonating sounds throughout the spacious 450-seat room, with its well-lit stage and impressive grand piano. Each year, the concert hall hosts the Ecstatic Music Festival, which presents one-night-only artist collaborations from across the spectrum. The Special Music School is the only public school in the city to offer music as a core subject to its gifted students, and the Lucy Moses School offers a variety of classes in music, dance and theater. "Lots of people will come back to play here as an adult having taken classes as children, " explained Communications Director Joan Jastrebski. In the summertime, the classrooms turn into musical theater workshops where specific age groups work with writers and choreographers to develop a performance for their final recital. Because every good show needs its props, a team of designers gets together to go over every last detail. Alex, one of the interns, shared with me the story of how the team scurried around to fabricate a prop microphone out of tape and foam when one went missing from the set, only to find it moments from show time. "What is exciting about the center is what people are doing, " Joan added when she took me to watch little ones dance passionately to playful music in the Ann Goodman Recital Hall. She also allowed me a peak into one of the private practice rooms on the third floor where Genya Paley, who had been with the center for over three decades, was giving a piano lesson to a young boy. "Yes, right, " said Genya as the child played each chord individually, "Now put it together. " The lovely harmony that followed exemplified the intersection of practice and performance.
When I visited the Center for Family Music, the home of East Side West Side Music Together, a class was just getting started. Danny, one of the program’s talented instructors, was leading a room full of toddlers and adults in a welcome song. Everyone sang “Hello everybody, so glad to see you, ” before specifically greeting all the “mamas, ” “nannies, ” “grandpas, ” and then each child by name. The entire group was welcomed and included in each part of the class, from the funny little noises made with mouths and hands between songs to the tunes themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed Danny's accompaniment on his autoharp as the class sang “This Little Light of Mine. ” Children were allowed to wander around and dance instead of being forced to sit still, but most of them sat with their eyes riveted on Danny or their parents, slowly catching on with claps and sounds. Fleur, the Center Manager, took me into the office, which will soon be partly turned into a space for birthday parties, in order to tell me more about what I had seen. Music Together is a worldwide music program for newborns through the age of five. It began in 1985 and is now taught in over forty countries. Fleur excitedly told me that the first Music Together had just opened in Sydney, Australia, thanks to a family that Fleur taught in New York: the mother loved the program so much that she became certified as a teacher and started a group when her family relocated. Music Together works by having the adults who take the class with the children model certain musical behaviors that the kids eventually copy. Semesters are long – ten to twelve weeks – in order to let the young students fully absorb the material. The program works through different “collections” named for instruments (I witnessed a class in the “Fiddle”). There are so many collections, Fleur told me, that a family can be in the program for three years before they get back to the original one. Even better, the Music Togethers around the world are always on the same collection, so if a family moves away, they can find stability in a new Music Together class, picking up right where they left off. The caretakers who accompany the toddlers make up a varied demographic (as the song said, from nannies to grandparents! ) and during weekend classes, Fleur explained, entire extended families sometimes show up to participate. Often in New York, it is a nanny who introduces Music Together to their families. Fleur went on to tell me that she once had a nanny say to her, “I’ve been doing Music Together for 23 years! ” She told me stories of how, in some cases, it is not just the kids who end up learning: For example, one father could not keep a beat, but had managed to teach himself to keep time with the others by the end of a Music Together semester. As Fleur pointed out, the classes are not about being good at music; they are about appreciating music, singing out, and introducing music into a child’s life. For that reason, tone-deaf parents who still sing their hearts out are some of her favorite people. The goal of Music Together, Fleur informed me, is to give kids “Basic Musical Competence” by the time they start school. This means being able to sing a song, keep a beat, and change the key of that song. Instructors never play an instrument more than three times in a class because, as Fleur pointed out, “You are the music maker. ” Music is known to activate more parts of the brain than any other activity, and so Music Together is not only giving kids the gift of music, but also preparing their minds for further learning. One thing Fleur emphasized about the program is that it is research-based and educationally-minded. She reminded me of the funny lip trills that I saw the kids doing. She demonstrated how a simple motion like that can activate the lips and tighten the diaphragm while still keeping it fun and silly for the children. This combination of learning and fun is why, in Fleur’s words, the program has “stood the test of time. ”The staff comes from a variety of backgrounds, but they appear to share two core elements: a love of music and a dedication to teaching. Danny has been teaching for almost twenty years, but has been performing professionally since he was seven years old. Fleur moved to New York City after going to school for acting. Music Together was brought to her attention while she was working as a babysitter, and she immediately decided to get certified. “I didn’t want to wait tables, I wanted to do this! ” she said, adding, “Once you’re in, you sort of drink the Kool-aid: You get hugs for a living! You’re around happy people for a living! ”I spoke with Deanna, the director, who started West Side Music Together in 1993 before uniting it with East Side Music Together in 2005. She was first introduced to Music Together as a mother. In 1992, when her oldest child was a baby, the mom’s group that she hung out with in the park suggested she take a class. She told me, “As a mom it made a lot of sense, and as a musician it felt really grounded. ” She added, “It was about all of us – not just about a teacher entertaining my kid. ” Deanna is a performer, but she took time off from auditioning when she became a mom. She thought Music Together was the perfect way to “keep [her] sense of herself” while taking a break from the theater world. She inquired about training and after getting certified, she decided to offer Music Together on the Upper West Side, where there was no outpost. She opened a little place on Riverside Drive with seven families and has since grown, thanks almost entirely to word of mouth, serving close to 50, 000 families since 1993. In the late nineties, Deanna partnered with her acting friend, Sally Woodson, who helped her to rent a space in her apartment building. Sally has sadly since passed away, but the space that she found is now the Center for Family Music. Deanna says that she feels especially happy to be offering this opportunity in today’s electronics-driven society. She pointed out that since kids and parents are always “Nose to nose with their electronic devices, ” it is easy to get disconnected from one’s own children. Music Together allows families to have “real quality time with their children in a musical setting. ” Deanna is also pleased that her own chapter of Music Together has spawned new centers around the country, an obvious sign that she is doing something right. She says that she encourages any curious family to come see what a class is like, because being able to have the musical experience is the best way to see what Music Together is all about. Deanna continues to thrive on her school, even (or especially) after over twenty years. “What more could you ask for from a career than to say you love what you do? ”
What makes the Bloomingdale School of Music unique is an "openness to anyone who comes. " I spoke to Erika Floreska, the director, who described the school's diverse student body to me: ten percent are in early childhood classes and ten percent are adults, with the rest of the participants filling in the ages in between. Additionally, twenty percent of the families who attend Bloomingdale School of Music are in an income bracket of less than $40, 000 per year, thanks to a robust scholarship program. The Bloomingdale School of Music was founded in 1964 by David Greer, the organist at the West End Presbyterian Church. He started out teaching classes in the church's basement before moving to 108th Street in 1972. Erika showed me the school's original sign, which advertises music lessons for fifty cents and a dollar. From the start, Bloomingdale has been "a place where anybody can come and play music. " In 1972, the school moved into its current building. At the time, music education was being removed from the public school system. Therefore, more and more children would walk from school straight to Bloomingdale. Since then, their purpose has remained constant, with the structure shifting slightly to meet the needs and requests of the community. For instance, in 2016, Erika is finding that the vocal department is growing, and more and more students are interested in learning jazz and musical theater styles. The lifeblood of Bloomingdale School is the staff. There are fifty-five instructors who cover over twenty instruments. After showing me various practice rooms, some of which can be rented by outside musicians, and meeting some of the passionate teachers, Erika led me back to the ground floor and out the door to the garden. It was here that I was introduced to people preparing for one of the school's Jam Sessions. The guitar teacher, Gabe, had a barbecue set up and was making food for the event, which would feature anyone who wished to share something - from a three year old who was learning a piece from a lesson, to an older student rehearsing an audition piece for conservatory. At this time, I also met Brandon, the assistant director, who had been involved with the program over twenty years ago, and Ling, who started as a student and now works for the school. I spoke to Monica, who has been a piano teacher for seventeen years and who wrote the history of the school for their website. Erika said that since she has joined the team, she has tried to "build on the community feeling. " She loves that at Bloomindale, everyone is part of a family. In addition to the jam sessions, Bloomingdale has themed concerts throughout the year. These concerts can focus on a specific instrument, such as guitar and piano festivals, or a topic, like "music of the Americas. " Bloomingdale has also started offering composition workshops in conjunction with the New York Philharmonic. Erika confidently stated, "Anyone can compose, " and described the layout of the workshop, which involved both writing one's own as well as playing classmates' pieces. "It's a program that highlights creativity and finding your voice. " Erika then shared a story of how one student wrote something for the recorder, bongos, and violin, since those were the instruments her three friends played. "These kids are serious about this. " In terms of other events, the instructors offer free concerts from October to June that are open to the public, and are a way of bringing high quality musical performances to lower income audiences. When I visited - at the end of August in 2016 - it was the first time that Bloomingdale had offered a summer camp with a specific focus on a book with narration called "The Carnival of the Instruments. " Two of the piano teachers had the idea: the campers, who ranged from six to ten years old, learned the basics of music while also engaging in arts and crafts. They made their own instruments, took part in movement classes, and were taught some piano. Erika said that at the end of the camp session, the kids wrote a song for Bloomingdale, which she described as, "The cutest thing I ever heard. "One of the last touching stories shared with me before leaving took place in 2014 when Bloomingdale had a fiftieth anniversary concert at West End Presbyterian Church, where it all began. A notice was sent out to the school's community, stretching back to its inception, inviting anyone who was interested to come on stage to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy. " Erika shared that while usually the audience at Bloomingdale attracts about 150 people, during this concert, there were 150 people playing on the stage. The church was jam packed - including people seated up in the balcony - a clear symbol of the great appreciation that has been felt throughout the city for this inspirational school of music.
It is no surprise that School of Rock NYC chose to open a location on East 75th Street in 2012. The block is teeming with families and is home to a wealth of creative neighbors, including two dance schools. Founded by Paul Green in the 1990s, the school has inspired both a film and a musical. On a daily basis, it provides high-quality instruction and activity for eight to eighteen year olds in the neighborhood and beyond. As Jackie Schellbach, one of the owners of this location, explained, the School of Rock teaches children how to hold a guitar, how to prepare for graduate school auditions, and everything in between. Walking through the facilities, Bob Jones, the music director, told me that each instructor has a passion for music and an impressive resume. Bob, himself, has experience in classical, folk, jazz, and rock, and has toured throughout North America and Europe with a variety of groups. His background playing the classical double bass has allowed him to help children with a classical background make the transition into Rock and Roll and memorized performance. Jackie focuses more on the managerial side of things, but she was able to tell me firsthand about their group classes. She came in with a bunch of friends for a class some time ago and by the end, her group was playing a song together. That is School of Rock’s promise: at the completion of a lesson, a student will be able to perform "something. "As we continued walking, Jackie and Bob showed me the front rehearsal room where small groups can jam together and the smaller practice rooms for voice and keys. Everywhere I looked, there were inspiring posters of rock legends on the wall, such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, alongside photos of students performing. Continuing to stroll through the space, I commented on the main social hub with red and black benches. Jackie explained that this is where kids "socialize, practice and maybe even get some homework done between lessons. " During the summer, "day campers" often use the space to write original songs together. Bob added that the School of Rock does birthday parties where attendees can either write their own song or learn how to play a well-known tune together. Heading downstairs, I was impressed by the high quality of the equipment in the rehearsal and recording room, which included a full soundboard and enough space for a big band. Bob shared that they can help older students record demos, but that these facilities are open to any student. Having the opportunity to perform a song with other kids after only a few sessions can really change a child. “Kids discover themselves and gain new levels of self-confidence, " Bob proudly stated. Nodding in agreement, Jackie added, “We see it happen. ” The School offers free trials to anyone who wants to try out their classes. According to Bob, there is a pretty high return rate from these trials - in his words, because “our teachers are just awesome. ”
Jerzy and Joanna Stryjniak, the founders of the New York Conservatory of Music, recited their story to me like an oft-told children's fairytale. Jerzy made his first trip to the United States in January 1990. He had been dreaming of escaping Communist Poland for years, especially since receiving a Fulbright scholarship in 1983 that he was not allowed to use, and so the trip meant a lot more to the pianist than a holiday jaunt. He was invited to play at a special piano concert in Palm Beach, Florida, presided over by George H. W. Bush and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Just six months later, Jerzy made his debut at Carnegie Hall. The acclaimed pianist pointed to the review from the New York Times that he still has hanging above his desk, which he claimed was the best review of the season. Jerzy had a refreshingly matter-of-fact way of listing his accomplishments that was as far from bragging as the recipients of multiple accolades can get. He went on to let me know that he was invited back in November of that same year to play for the centennial of Carnegie Hall. He reached behind the desk and graciously handed me a CD of his performance. "That was the beginning of my stay in New York. " And it was a very happy start to a successful career: Jerzy has played in Carnegie Hall ten times since 1990. Jerzy and Joanna, who is a musicologist and teaches music theory at the conservatory, began the New York Conservatory of Music in 1998. It was an enormous investment, which involved building soundproof walls and fitting the practice rooms with pianos. Jerzy considers it very important to have high-quality pianos: he pointed out a Steinway Model B to me in one of the front practice rooms. Joanna informed me that, without a doubt, the main element that sets the Conservatory apart from other music schools is the level of teaching. All of their staff are professional, musically-educated concert instrumentalists. Each lays claim to high-level music degrees and does not have jobs on the side. Jerzy, himself, may have the highest level degree of any musician in the area. He is a "Doctor of Habilitation, " a degree above a PhD that is not offered in the United States. He explained, "My friends say I'm the most educated pianist in New York! "The other instructors are no less impressive. I met Jacob, who Jerzy described as a "world famous composer. " Along with instructing students, Jacob, who studied under the famous composer Krzysztof Penderecki, has been writing fully-realized pieces for some of his pupils to play. "This is absolutely new for New York, " Jerzy asserted. "Nowhere else is a piece composed especially for you. " Jacob is also working on interactive programs for children through which he will help young students explore well-known fairy tales using music. As if that did not already sound like a lot on his plate, Jacob is also responsible for starting the Chamber Music ensembles at the Conservatory. Jerzy estimated that one thousand students have been members of the Conservatory since it opened its doors. Joanna chimed in with "more than one thousand! " I was most impressed, however, when she told me that a good thirty percent of the school's pupils are adults, and went on to share with me that every month, there is a special night where grown students can come together, have a light refreshment, and network. Jerzy was happy to point out that while some of those students are non-musical professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, who wish to add music back into their lives, many have been with the Conservatory since the start. Jerzy and Joanna offer them many resources including lectures on composers, theory classes, trips to Europe, and even the opportunity to play on extraordinary stages including Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall. But it all comes back to the quality of teaching: As Jerzy expounded, "Six months after we tell them, 'this is middle C, ' some of our students are able to play Chopin in a famous concert hall. "
“Third Street is a power house — a place where people can get affordable music lessons and have an opportunity to grow not just as a student but as an individual, ” Executive Director Valerie Lewis said. Over a century after its founding, the Third Street Music Settlement has progressed from teaching piano and violin to offering classes in twenty-five instruments, as well as dance and composition in “every genre from hip-hop to oboe and rock bands to orchestras. ”Third Street was founded by Emily Wagner based on the idea that “music plays a critical role not only in the development of a child but in the advancement of society. ” What began as a music school “expanded beautifully into a full settlement house. ” At one point, Third Street was giving individual lessons and orchestra experiences while also providing temporary housing and even advanced medical procedures. Like many of the settlement houses at the time, it was responding to the needs of the expanding immigrant population of the Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. Third Street’s focus eventually shifted away from social services and back to music, keeping the word “settlement” in the name as an affirmation of music’s enormous social and cultural power. While classes at Third Street may no longer cost twenty-five cents as they did in the time of Emily Wagner, there is still a place for everyone. Valerie said that Third Street “never turns away a student because of their inability to pay. At the core of what we do is ensuring access. ” What all people at Third Street share is “the elation that comes from playing the simplest notes and the most complicated chords together. ”
For a century and counting, The Diller-Quaile School of Music has worked to cultivate “the innate musicality in each individual and inspire participation for a lifetime, ” said Executive Director Kirsten Morgan. The school was founded by two remarkable women, Angela Diller and Elizabeth Quaile, who believed that “the capacity for understanding and creating music exists in everyone. ” The women toured the country to conduct classes — an unusual phenomenon at the time. They were also prolific writers, creating the abundance of materials used to instruct their students and teachers alike. Originally, the organization focused on three areas: developing musicians, offering piano study, and training music teachers. This three-pronged approach aims to produce individuals who are “musically sensitive” and can harness their deep understanding of the structure of music or a particular composition to play with “a special eloquence. ” Diller-Quaile starts instilling this knowledge from an early age through programs available for children as young as three months old and via in-school and community-wide partnerships. Of course, there are plenty of instrumental and vocal lessons for adults, as well as chamber workshops. “At our core, we’re a learning institution. This is a place where people come at all ages and levels to learn and grow through music, ” Kirsten emphasized. This includes the faculty, who are encouraged to continue pursuing their musical passions through creativity grants or new work commissioned by the school. In turn, they share their love for the beauty and joy of music with their students. “At the heart of it, music is made for us all. ”