musiConnects has been able to keep chamber music at the heart of every aspect of their work, by ensuring that every student is a part of the chamber music experience from the very beginning.
I can tell when a musiConnects student has been in the program for a year or more. Those students know how to step up to lead, and they know that it’s expected of them. They know how to give a cue: they look around, check in with their fellow players, set up to play, they figure out the tempo, count, take a breath, and they’re off!
These are skills that have been built through the relentless care and attention of my fellow Resident Musicians, who also believe in this unique chamber music model. It requires us to place our trust in very young students. Last week, I asked a first grader to lead her three chamber music companions in bow warm ups while I tuned their instruments. This is only her first month in the program, but she did not take this role lightly. She started the first warm up, where students pretend to “stir the soup.” As they were stirring their bows, she took a line from her teachers, and asked each of her fellow students in turn, “What are you putting in your soup, PJ? What do you want in your soup, Marcus?” She led the warm up, plus kept everyone engaged at the same time.
I first heard of musiConnects from a former cellist of the Boston Public Quartet, Mike Dahlberg. He was super excited about the mission, and always telling great stories about the students involved. He knew that I was interested in this type of work, and asked me if I was available to sub. I then became Betsy's long-term sub at the Sumner school as she went on maternity leave in 2012! Since then, it has been an exciting journey being a part of the start of the Sumner Quartet, and watching musiConnects grow.
For many students that I've worked with, I begin to see a new curiosity, less fear of failure, and a sense of ownership through music. At the end of the year, we have begun to ask students to make a journal entry to reflect on the year, and it's always interesting to see which moments a student holds dear. Some of my favorite answers have been: "Learning to play low 2's!", "Learning to read music and how to count a whole rest", "I like learning about the viola because it is one of a kind" and "My favorite thing I learned was there are still many things I can learn, and even the people who have been playing an instrument for several years are still learning." These quotes, among others throughout the year's lessons, are really what our mission is about. Allowing a student to explore something new, think creatively, and have "light bulb moments"!
The musiConnects model is definitely very unique, in that it engages everyone in so many different ways. For the teachers, it's exciting that we are also a part of a professional string quartet. For the students, they are able to have individualized attention and are always surrounded by great music. For the families, they are able to come to great concerts, and see their student grow in an exciting new way. Because of all these different aspects, everyone is able to be engaged and contribute in many different ways, and we all learn from each other. There's really no telling what this new empowerment through music could do for a community.
I joined musiConnects in the fall of 2014. I initially read about the position opening in the late spring of that year, and I immediately sent in my application. I had actually been aware of the Boston Public Quartet and the musiConnects mission for several years prior and was really impressed and intrigued by their mission and how they were organized. So, when I saw the position posted, I was quick to apply!
I think the musiConnects model is unique, even among similar chamber-music centered education programs in other parts of the country. One of its greatest strengths is that the design of the program allows for the teachers and students to form such close bonds with each other, so you really feel like you are part of a small but tight-knit community. In this context, the teachers can connect with the students in a comprehensive way, in that they can really get to know the different and varying sides of their students, what their lives are like, what their interests are. As a teacher, the more I know about a student and the more we are comfortable with one another, the much greater chance there is of me reaching that student and teaching meaningfully, of finding that student's "frequency" that is such an important part of the student being able to assimilate new information. Not to mention, the students get to know us as well, and what our interests are ("Mr. Karl, why do you like coffee so much?"), and that can be incredibly empowering to a child.
I feel like there are too many little moments that I've had with musiConnects kids for me to write about even a portion of them, but a few stand out: One student, who I had as a private student for two years, would sometimes call me (our phone numbers are written on their binders) just to talk, and see how I was doing, and to tell me what she was doing (usually homework). This only happened two or three times, and the conversations were short, but it really felt special. I had another student, who in our first chamber music rehearsal had very inconspicuously written the word "boring" in small letters next to the title of her chamber music piece. I didn't say anything, but after a few weeks of rehearsals, I noticed she had erased the word and replaced it with, in equally small letters, the word "awesome." This student also wrote poems, and when I read one and told her how amazing it was, she came back the next week with a folded piece of paper that she handed to me, and it was a new poem she had written (its still on our fridge at home).
A speech written and read by a musiconnects student as an introduction to a performance
"Hello everyone. My name is Julien Burks. I would like to welcome you and thank you for coming out to see all of us perform tonight. It is truly an honor to play with and learn from such talented musicians.
Before I share my experience with you all, I’d like to take the time to thank all of the wonderful musiConnects staff and teachers for helping me-us… discover and nurture our musical ability. I know many of us didn’t think we would stick with it, let alone fall in love with learning and performing music.
I started my journey with musiConnects in the 2nd grade, 4 years ago. At the time, I had hoped that I would get to play the violin, so when I was given the cello, I was initially disappointed. But I know now, it was meant to be. I couldn’t imagine being paired with any other instrument.
musiConnects has truly been a blessing. We’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. From musical theory and improvisation, chamber music, sectionals, orchestra and our favorite of them all, private lessons. We’ve learned how to communicate utilizing music, but in a variety of ways, from head nods, eye contacts and other non-verbal cues. These skills have helped me tremendously in a variety of ways, such as gaining confidence in my performance abilities, learning how to work in a collaborative setting and most of all to trust myself and my peers.
I didn’t imagine that I would want to become a professional musician when I first brought home my cello, but now I can’t imagine my life without it. I am excited to say, that I have been accepted to the Rivers School in Weston and will be auditioning for acceptance into their conservatory. Although these wonderful opportunities await me, I know that I will always have a special place in my heart for my cello teacher, Ms. Laura and all of the amazing musiConnects staff and hope to maintain my connection to musiConnects for as long as they are around. I/We… thank you for being here, and for your support!"
In the fall of 2012, I became a Resident Musician with musiConnects and the cellist of the Sumner Quartet. I was excited about the unique model of this organization; which gives the Resident Musicians the opportunity to bring music lessons to an underserved population of students as well as to be able to play with a professional string quartet. I did not realize at the time that accepting the position at musiConnects was one of the best decisions of my career. I have always wanted to teach music, but now that I have had the experience of working with musiConnects, I have decided to dedicate my career to bringing music to underserved communities and working with arts organizations that create social change. Although I recently became employed full time by another arts organization in Boston and could not remain a musiConnects Resident Musician, I could not imagine not being a part of the mC community. The board has graciously accepted me as a new member and I look forward to continuing to contribute to musiConnects’ important mission.
When I was first hired back in 2012, I quickly became enamored with my students at the Chittick School and looked forward to getting to know them better week after week. Watching them learn and become stronger cello players was just one of the reasons I started to feel attached to these students. I learned some eye-opening stories about a few of the children; and finding out one of them had recently lost his brother to gang violence was one of the harder things to hear from a seven-year-old. I started to feel like, in addition to being this young boy’s cello teacher, I was also a supportive adult for him to see on a weekly basis who would listen to him if he needed to talk. I have also known students whose family would not pick them up after programming, so one of our teachers would bring them home. Other students we’ve had in our program do not always have something to eat at home, so we send them home with any leftover snacks from our events. At musiConnects, the teachers support students in a richer way than a typical teacher-student relationship; providing transportation, meals, and emotional support in addition to musical instruction. To me, this is a good example of the social change that musiConnects is working to impact.
A particular student that stood out to me that first year was a very bright, focused boy who started playing cello sort of by default, since a time slot with me was the only spot available in the program. He tells me now that he originally wanted to play the violin, but he’s glad he ended up as a cellist. He was not the strongest player in the beginning. He struggled with his bow hold, and he was a little bit behind the other students in his class of beginners since he started several months into the school year. But week after week, I would teach him his cello lesson in the cold, echoing hallway at the top of the stairwell. Shortly after we started lessons I could tell this student had something special about him. He worked hard at both his academics and music and he became a great behavioral role model for his peers. With lots of practice and determination, he soon became one of the strongest players in his class, and was contributing both musically and socially to his chamber group and the Chittick Orchestra. In his fourth grade year he tested into the BPS Advanced Work program and had to transfer to another Boston Public School during the day for that program, but his parents felt so strongly about his participation in musiConnects that they continued to bring him to Chittick after school for our programming. When he was in 5th grade I was proud to have written him a recommendation letter for a competitive independent school that he now attends for 6th grade. He also auditioned for the school orchestra and was accepted, and I am happy to be continuing to teach him privately this year to support his musical goals. This particular student always had the potential for great success, and I feel strongly that musiConnects helped him gain the confidence and vision to see himself where he is today.
musiConnects started out ten years ago with the vision of chamber musicians using their abilities as artists and teachers to create a community and make a positive difference for their neighbors and themselves. I remember visiting the Family Fiddle Food Fest in the Chittick Elementary School's modest gymnasium, and seeing the clear sense of warmth and connection between the professional musicians, their young students, and the students' families. There was music-making, dancing, and laughter, and everyone was included. In that one experience, I could see the vision becoming a reality, and I felt proud that I had agreed to serve as a founding board member.
I met Betsy when she was in the earliest stages of building musiConnects. I was inspired by her commitment to creating access to high quality music education for all children, regardless of their family resources, and by her aspiration to make chamber music the vehicle for her mission of social change. Ten years later, it is amazing to look back at how far the organization has come, and it is exciting to imagine the next ten years. With such a terrific team now in place, the potential for significant social impact is being realized: an entire community--including the Resident Musicians themselves--is being transformed through music performance and education. This kind of transformation is made up of millions of tiny interactions in private lessons, orchestra rehearsals, pizza parties, and backstage before performances. Sometimes it takes a big milestone--like a 10th anniversary--to be able to step back and see just how far we have journeyed from Betsy's initial efforts with nine kids in 2007..
Hi. My name is Jessica Chaudry and I have been playing the violin with musiConnects for six years. For the past six years, musiConnects has changed me in so many ways. One of them is my creativity. I learned and am still learning many ways on how to express myself through different types of arts especially music. Another way it has changed me is studying. Ever since I learned the concept on studying music, I thought to myself that it might help me with studying in general and it has. My favorite memory of being part on musiConnects is my first day learning. I had a friend of mine ask for me when we were in the second grade. Back then, I was very shy. She asked for me and one of the teachers came to get me and started to teach me the basics of the violin. And here I am now, six years later with musiConnects. Happy 10th anniversary musiConnects!
10 years - 10 stories (Joshua Addison - Resident musician, member of the musiconnects sumner quartet)
My first work with musiConnects was from 2007-2008, when Betsy Hinkle invited me to join the Chittick String Quartet. After a year few years in graduate school on the west coast I returned to Boston and very quickly rejoined the musiConnects community, first as a Resident Artist and teacher with mC's Community Programs, and eventually as a member of the Sumner Quartet. musiConnects' mission of empowerment and community-building, with chamber music as the central means of accomplishing those ends, immediately resonated with me. My long-time association with the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music had already instilled in me a love for chamber music and a strong belief in the transformative powers of its processes. At musiConnects I was given an opportunity to put this passion to practical use, and it has been a joy to see the fruits of our hard work, most especially each time I am able watch a student chamber group perform without the help of a teacher, each time I am able to witness these children practicing powerful forms of wordless communication, this is when my heart sings!
My Name is Brandon Payne and I have been playing the viola for 6 years with musiConnects. I feel good about playing an instrument because I can let stress out. Playing an instrument changes me because it lets me feel like I can let out some anger. Musicians can do a lot of things in life like get a job and go to college. I think of myself as a musician because playing makes me feel free and it makes me feel like I can do anything. A skill I've learned in music is focus. For example focus can help me in life by keeping me out of bad things and from getting into trouble. I feel happy when I play music, for example if I feel stressed out I can just play my instrument and let that stress out.