As we enter the second half of our 11th year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Founder, Betsy Hinkle, for her tireless commitment to providing quality music education and performance to neighborhoods of Boston often deprived of cultural programming.
Betsy recently decided to step out of the role of Artistic Director in order to focus on being with her newly expanded family. Fortunately for us, she will remain fully invested in teaching and performing with musiConnects.
While Betsy has only shifted her role with musiConnects, it seems a fitting time to thank her for her vision and creative spirit. We are so appreciative that we are a strong and healthy organization in the position to be able to grow smoothly--in large part because of Betsy's energy and conviction.
Because of Betsy's core belief in equality, over the past eleven years, hundreds of children have not only received free individualized instrument and chamber music training, but have also forged crucial friendships with the talented and caring body of professional musicians she has assembled.
Thank you Betsy, for all of your hard work and dedication and the Board and Staff look forward to creating musiConnect's next chapter together!
After ten years, we know that embedding professional musicians in Mattapan as teachers and performers is effective. But our chamber music-based model only works if we can provide salaries for our Resident Musicians and free instruments for their students. The gift you make to musiConnects today will directly affect the present and future of children in our community – kids who may grow up in challenging circumstances but have the same needs and desires as kids anywhere.
With an annual budget of $260,000, musiConnects now supports the work of nine professional chamber musicians-in-residence who not only teach 60 children to play an instrument, but also serve as dedicated long-term role models. Because of our community-building mission, this mentoring is considered a central part of their work as violin, viola, cello, and chamber music teaching artists.
Our Resident Musicians support their young students in both musical and personal growth. You can see evidence of this in their practice challenges (students vs. teachers has made for some healthy competition!), in taking time during each lesson to talk about what is going on in a child’s life outside of music, and in regular phone calls between lessons to connect with students and their families.
Of course, our Resident Musicians are also exceptional performers, sharing their music throughout Mattapan and nearby communities as the Boston Public Quartet and the Sumner Quartet. Our Resident Musicians are committed to the belief that quality live music is a right for everyone – not just a privilege for a few.
Every musiConnects student receives a free instrument to use during their individual and ensemble lessons and to take home to practice. In order to provide a student with a violin, bow, and music stand for 30 weeks of teaching and mentoring activities, musiConnects spends approximately $225 per student. A viola costs us $232; a cello $337. If you are able contribute $225 or more, you will receive two complimentary tickets to our special November 30th year-end performance and party – see below.
Thank you so much for your financial support. When you support our work, you can feel good about impacting a child’s life today while also shaping the adult they will become in the future.
Call Now for Tickets! - Our entire roster of Resident Musicians will be performing on November 30th for a special evening of chamber music at Futura Productions - a state-of-the-art studio with concert hall acoustics. This event, with a suggested admission of $50 per person, includes a post-concert party at our office in Roslindale Village. Contact Nancy at 617-990-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go HERE for more info.
Violinist Betsy Hinkle '01 M.M., Founder of musiConnects,
Offered these Remarks to the Graduating Class of 2017
At NEC's 146th Commencement Ceremony on May 21, 2017
It truly is an honor to be speaking to you all today, and to be back in Jordan Hall, one of my favorite places. Back in 2001 when I was sitting where you are, and proudly walked across the stage, I had no idea where life and music were about to lead me. I loved how the NEC Master’s Degree let me take lots of electives (I took lots of CI classes as a violin performance major!) and play chamber music each semester, but truthfully two years went by in a flash and I lacked a lot of focus when I graduated.
That May I had coffee with my violin professor Nick Kitchen, who was asking me “what next?” I said what all my friends were saying—play gigs, take orchestra auditions, find some teaching opportunities. He said: “I really think that chamber music should be your focus—find your string quartet. And I think you’d be a great teacher—find a community-based setting.” Of course Nick Kitchen has made a wonderful life of performing in a string quartet and teaching at NEC. But this seemed an insurmountable goal to me… String quartet “jobs” are rarely posted in International Musician.
Unbeknownst to me in 2001 the seeds of musiConnects, the organization I founded in 2007, were being planted. My good friend Jesse Holstein who also graduated in ‘01 was headed off to join Community MusicWorks in Providence. It sounded really cool, but I was on a mission to pay rent in Boston.
At first I led a pretty typical Boston freelance life—lots of learning-on-the-job teaching at fancy private schools and driving all over the Northeast to play any gig I was called for. I was doing fairly well, but juggling a lot. And I was constantly searching for my string quartet. I also was increasingly aware that Boston differed greatly from my hometown in Florida as to the availability of high-quality music education—wealthy communities have so many opportunities and access, and I thought that Boston Public Schools should have the same, or even more!
Then, while at Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, immersed in how the power of collaborative music making can bring people from completely different backgrounds together, I read an article in the Chamber Music America magazine about Community MusicWorks, and how they are creating a cohesive urban community through music education and performance.
That’s it, I said, I’m going to do this in Boston. I’m going to create an urban string quartet residency.
All of a sudden my new-found teaching skills had purpose, and I had a reason to even have a string quartet. The next summer I was writing my ideas down, with the help of Heath Marlow, to apply for a grant. I had made contact with an elementary school in Mattapan where there was no general music teacher, no visual arts, no library and no playground. I began in September 2007 with a string quartet of friends who rehearsed weekly and performed our debut at the Mattapan Community Health Center. I taught nine third-grade students the violin, viola, and cello.
By the middle of the year I was developing a chamber music based education model in response to the students’ need to have a unifying approach. All of a sudden I had found something that was so fulfilling to me—It of course was hard work—learning a whole new language of teaching in this new environment, and raising all the money to do it at the same time! But as you all may come to know—when you truly love what you are doing, whatever it may be, your “work” can be joyful and fulfilling, even on a daily basis!
Now in our 10th year, musiConnects employs nine resident musicians, six of whom are NEC grads, working with about 100 students in free and low-cost programs. Each of our students gets a private lesson, and as soon as they can play a scale, they are placed in a chamber music group. Our two resident string quartets perform all over Boston, mainly in places like libraries, churches, the post office, and the grocery store. I’ve freelanced with some well-known Boston orchestras, but it is this community-centered chamber music performing that has taken my playing to the next level and helped me find that true flow in performance.
At musiConnects we say that chamber music is a true democracy, where all are leaders and collaborators simultaneously. And this is my advice to you graduates: Collaborate! We’re so much stronger when we work together rather than in competition. The world needs this approach now more than ever! Be entrepreneurial, yes, but collaborate with existing organizations as well as making your own. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path—even if it’s a variation on a familiar theme—find a way to put your own personal beliefs into whatever you are doing. And most of all, follow your heart and make sure you fully enjoy your music making.
Many congratulations to all, and a warm welcome to the NEC Alumni family!
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.