A music program is providing violin lessons to West Side children from the city's under-served population. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley recently spent the afternoon with Buffalo String Works.
It's after school and about 28-children arrived at the Concerned Ecumenical Ministry building on Lafayette Avenue. It’s time for them to switch from their school work to a music lesson. Students are given a quick and fun warm up exercise to focus their attention on playing the violin.
Virginia Barron leads this program . She's well-known to listeners of our classical station WNED-FM as one of the announcers.
Barron has been teaching violin for the last 35-years and has played in professional orchestras. She’s performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto Symphonies. Barron has also toured internationally.
Barron jump started Buffalo String Works last year after a performing before students at International School 45 in Buffalo.
"It's based on something called the El Sistema, which was started in Caracas, Venezuela 30-years ago to give underserved communities the chance to study an instrument and all the benefits that come from that," said Barron. "So my wildest dream, I'm not sure how my colleagues feel, although I think they agree -- at least for next year we would like to have 40-children."
The students are mostly 5th and 6th graders. Some do not speak any English, but music provides a universal language.
"We have seven different countries represented in our 28 kids and it's a great party," noted Barron.
Most are playing the violin for the very first time this school year. "They're pretty much all beginners. Some of them have studied some kind of music in their country of origin, but not many," said Barron.
The students are separated into two groups. Dr. Donna Lorenzo is a Buffalo Violinist, who began volunteering this past fall. She instructs the younger group of beginners.
"I've notice amongst the different children personal growth," said Lorenzo. "It's interesting because I'm learning from them lots of things that I might have not know about them, but the children, I think are growing as people, but they are also growing as musicians."
Lorenzo is joined by University at Buffalo music student Ellen Aroune. "I know they come from Nepal, Burma, Southern Africa, Iraq, Iran," said Aroune.
The teaching assistants plays a duel role. They offer support to the younger students and at the same time are gaining practical experience. "I've seen a lot of them open up," said Aroune. "In the beginning they are kind of shy and don't really know what to make of the whole experience yet."
For the children, music will benefit their academic success in school.
"There's so much benefit for studying a musical instrument for children. For the social aspect of it. For the fun aspect of it and helping for reading and mathematics and spacial concepts," replied Barron.
Two students we spoke with seem delighted to learn the violin.
"They teach me listening, learning," said Isa Salim Malanda, 6th Grader from International School. Malanda was born in Buffalo, but his family came from Kenya. He said he tries to practice a few hours a week in between school and his lessons.
"What do you like about coming here,?" asked Buckley. "What I like about coming here is they me, I help my classmates, they help me," responded Malanda.
"What is the hardest part, for you, about playing the violin," asked Buckley. "The hardest part is like putting the fingers on the violins," said Malanda. His friend, 5th grader Hserteryu Jue, said its learning the 'notes'. Jue is is from Thailand. His family arrived in Buffalo seven years ago.
"Because it bring me joy and all the people who play with me, it bring them joy for me and them. It give me to learn better and listen to the teacher who teach me to do the notes and the song, so that's what I like about it," said Jue.
Back in Barron's group students they are instructed on several pieces, using a charge explaining the musical notes. They are also taught how to conduct a processional while playing their instruments.
WBFO asked Jue what he thinks about while playing his violin. "I think about all the people in the world, giving happiness and peace," said Jue.