• Meet the Harmony Program Trumpet Students at P.S. 129

    March 6, 2013

    Walking down West 130th Street near St. Nicholas Park, one can hear the sound of music coming from the windows of PS 129, where the students of the Harmony Program rehearse every afternoon. On Wednesday, melodies echoed off the concrete and bricks outside as Julie Desbordes’s trumpet class polished up an arrangement of Moussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev, which they’ll perform later this spring.

    These young musicians were kind enough to take a moment out of their rehearsal to talk about their experiences playing music.

    Of all the instruments in the orchestra, why choose the trumpet?

    Raphael: I picked the trumpet because I liked how it sounded. It can make all different kinds of sounds.

    Julio: I started playing the trumpet to continue what my mom started. She played the trumpet when she was little and I wanted to play also.

    What is the most important thing to know about playing the trumpet?

    Jordan: There are two important things: contact and air.

    Julio: Some people think it’s just air to play the trumpet, but you need both.

    Jordan: Yea, but you have to make contact with the lips, like a buzzing sound, and then the air. That’s how you play the trumpet.

    Tell me a little bit about your teacher, Miss Julie. Is she a good trumpet player?

    Julio: Oh man, she’s good. She’s extremely good.

    Johann: Yea, she should teach teachers — that’s how good she is.

    Raphael: And she can play high and fast!

    Bryan: She can teach us every day. That’s how I know she’s good.

    You all come here every day. That’s a lot of work. Is it hard?

    Bryan: Nope. I love it.

    Jenifer, you’re the one beginner in the group, how do you like it so far?

    Jenifer: I like it a lot. My dad played the trumpet when he lived in another country, and now he plays the piano. We play together sometimes and he helps me practice.

    Do all of you play at home with your families?

    Group: Yes!

    Raphael: They like to listen to me, especially my little sister.

    Julio: I have two little sisters, and the youngest likes to take my trumpet from me when I’m playing. My guess is that she’ll be a trumpet player one day soon.

    Bryan: My baby brother likes to sit in my trumpet case because it’s so soft.

    Any advice to other kids who are just beginning to play music?

    Jordan: If you want to play an instrument, play the trumpet!


    Thanks to Miss Julie and the students!

  • Harmony Program Students “Meet the Music!”

    March 4, 2013

    This weekend, twenty students from the Harmony Program orchestra at P.S. 129 joined teachers and staff for a field trip to the “Red Dogs and Pink Skies: The Colors of Music” performance at Alice Tully Hall. The event was part of the “Meet the Music” series of educational concerts for children and families put on by our friends at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

    Featuring the music of composer Bruce Adolphe, who also serves as the resident lecturer and Director of Family Programs at CMS, the concert explored relationships between music and the visual arts, and asked the students to think about the ways that music is like painting, and vice versa.

    During the Q&A that followed the performance, Harmony student Naomi Wleh asked percussionist, Ian David Rosenbaum, his favorite instrument to play. His answer? “The Marimba.” (Mr. Rosenbaum recently won the Salzburg International Marimba Competition.)

    Thanks to the Chamber Music Society for such a great afternoon!


  • Meet the Harmony Program Cellos Students at the United Palace of Cultural Arts

    February 5, 2013

    Last Friday at the United Palace, David Wiley’s cello students had been rehearsing for nearly an hour. It was just before 4:30 and the session was only halfway through, but the students took a few minutes to offer some thoughts about learning music:

    You’ve all come a long way in a short time. Is it as easy as you make it look?

    Wagner: In my opinion, the hardest part is learning where to put your fingers.

    Valys: Sightreading is tough, but you learn to play the notes, and then it’s like just like reading.

    What are you looking forward to learning this semester?

    Jackson: I want to learn more advanced songs and I really want to learn 4th position.

    Valys: Slurs!

    Gabriela: I want to learn how to play 16th notes!

    Of all the subjects to learn, why choose music?

    Paul: Music is just … part of life. I think everyone likes it.

    Valys: It’s entertaining to people, too.

    Gabriela: Yea, music calms people down. It soothes them. It’s relaxing.

    Jackson: I think that music helps us to express our emotions. And we hear other people’s feelings, too.

    Leslie: Music is fun to learn. I love to play at home and I love to play for my younger sisters.

    Valys: Me too. My sister loves when I teach her stuff, even though she’s older than me.


    Thanks to David and the students for taking the time to talk with us!

  • Celebrating a Great Semester at Two Winter Recitals

    December 20, 2012

    This semester was one of our best yet – an exciting time of achievement, growth, and new beginnings. We welcomed back returning students while expanding into new communities and reaching more families than ever. We grew our staff and added more hands-on training and support for our teachers. We worked with music educators across the city and hosted distinguished guests to witness the great strides our students continue to make. And this week, after a season of activity, Harmony Program students at P.S. 129 and the United Palace of Cultural Arts took the stage to perform and share what they’ve learned.

    At P.S. 129 yesterday, a group of forty students came together to perform music for small ensembles and orchestra, including some holiday favorites. Before the performance, Principal Odelphia Pierre spoke to the audience about the importance of the Harmony Program to the P.S. 129 community, highlighting the achievements of our students, and congratulating them for their dedication to daily lessons.

    And on Monday, beginner students at the UPCA performed for family and friends some familiar tunes, including Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells, and a theme and variations rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Between the formal performances, students presented fun facts about their instruments and demonstrated performance techniques they’ve learned.

    It’s agreat to see our students share their achievements with their classmates and families, and this concert was especially exciting for us because it was the first with our new partners at the UPCA. Check out the UPCA blog to learn more.

    Thanks again to everyone who took part in the Harmony Program this semester, especially the students, families, teachers, and supporters who make our work possible.

  • Harmony Program and El Sistema in NYC This Week

    December 11, 2012

    In 2008, Harmony Program Executive Director, Anne Fitzgibbon, returned from a year in Venezuela inspired to bring the model of El Sistema to communities in New York City.

    Nearly four years later, the Harmony Program is overjoyed to take part in a week of activities focusing on this influential model of music education, its flagship orchestra, and its visionary founder, Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu.

    On Sunday, we were honored to host Maestro Abreu at our annual holiday celebration. The evening brought together program staff, participants, partners, sponsors, and distinguished guests, including United States Senators Charles Schumer and Maria Cantwell. We were honored to host them and to share some student performances of seasonal favorites.

    Following the performance, Maestro Abreu was presented with a gift of appreciation from our students, and he spoke warmly to guests, expressing his appreciation for the accomplishments of the performers and for the instruction that their committed teachers have provided them.

    The following evening, during the intermission of the live Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra broadcast from Carnegie Hall, WQXR featured the Harmony Program, including a brief interview with Ms. Fitzgibbon about her experience in Venezuela and efforts to adapt elements of El Sistema to New York City.

    Listen to the concert, including the Harmony feature (at around 59:00)

    And tomorrow, Wednesday, December 12th, students and teachers from the Harmony Program will participate in the first New York City “Seminario,” organized by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Our students will join over 100 children from other local El Sistema-inspired programs for a day of workshops and performances with members of the visiting Simon Bolivar Orchestra from Venezuela.

    Read more about the Seminario on theCarnegie Hall website, and stay tuned for pictures and news in the week ahead.


  • The Orchestra of St. Luke’s String Trio Visits the Harmony Program

    November 14, 2012

    On Tuesday, Harmony Program students at PS 129 in Harlem were treated to a very special visit from a trio of string players from the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

    Daire Fitzgerald (cello), Eriko Sato (violin), and Louise Schulman (viola) performed for the students selections from Haydn, Dohnanyi, and Beethoven. As the trio played, students conducted from their seats, nodded along with the beats, and mimicked the musicians’ playing styles.

    After the performance, the visiting musicians took time to answer the students’ thoughtful questions and discuss their own beginnings as musicians.

    Harmony string players then received the very special opportunity of individual coaching from Ms. Fitzgerald, Ms. Sato, and Ms. Schulman. As the class of young violinists started on Smetena’s The Moldau, Ms. Sato worked with each student, guiding them through difficult passages. Ms. Fitzgerald coached the cello students on performing dynamics, and Ms. Schulman worked with the viola class on Handel’s Le Rejouissance.

    Thanks so much to the musicians, and to Jen Kessler and Marc Caruso from the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for making this very special afternoon possible.

    For more information about the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, including news about upcoming events and performances, visit their website: www.oslmusic.org.

  • Profiles in Harmony: Jesse Schiffman

    October 22, 2012

    Jesse is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he earned his Master’s in Flute Performance. As a student at Juilliard, Jesse received the Gluck Community Service Fellowship and provided flute instruction to New York City public school students at P.S. 7 in East Harlem. In 2009 and 2010, he took part in an exchange program to work with the El Sistema-inspired “Neojba” program in Salvador, Brazil. Jesse joined us this fall, and he’ll begin teaching at the new Harmony Program site at P.S. 107 in the Bronx later this month.

    How and when did you start playing music?

    I began playing the flute in 4th grade through my school’s band program. I chose the flute because my mother had played the flute so we already had an instrument.

    Can you tell us something about your favorite teachers?

    My favorite teacher is Sarah Tuck, from the San Diego Symphony; she was my teacher during high school. Sarah was a wonderful teacher because she taught the technical aspects of playing the flute through musicality. For example, one day Sarah sent me home with Schubert’s “Die Schone Mullerin” and a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and told me to practice the songs and study the recording, and come back next week sounding like Mr. Fischer-Dieskau. Through teaching me how to play the songs musically, as though I was singing them, Sarah was teaching me tone and sound technique.

    What do you hope to learn from your experience as a Harmony teacher?

    “I hope to inspire my students to be better people, people who feel important in the world, and people who feel as though they have something unique and important to contribute to and share with others.”

    The student/teacher relationship can be a very reciprocal one. I hope to learn how to effectively translate my thoughts and ideas to students. I hope to inspire my students to be better people, people who feel important in the world, and people who feel as though they have something unique and important to contribute to and share with others.

    If you could do anything besides play music, what would it be?

    If I could do anything besides music I would be a writer or literature teacher. Or maybe an astronaut.

    If you could give your students one piece of advice, what would it be?

    My advice to any student is to have ridiculously high aspirations and never give up. Everyone goes through difficult times where they doubt themselves. Don’t dwell on errors; learn from them and know that failure is part of success.


    Thanks, Jesse!