Renowned violinist visits East Harlem Catholic school
NEW YORK, N.Y. (Catholic New York) - With looks of nervousness and excitement, students in an East Harlem school filed in for their music class, picked up their violins and went to their regular places on the music room floor - waiting for a class to begin that would be like no other.
Joshua Bell, the Grammy Award-winning violinist who was visiting Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary School, casually walked around to the students, helping to tune their instruments. With shy smiles, they took center stage and played for the famed musician under the direction of their music teacher, Sharon Kim.
When they were done, Bell removed his violin from its case -a Stradivarius made in Italy in 1713. "I love to play," he said to the students.
He told them he began playing the violin at the age of 4, and realized at 12 that he wanted to play professionally. By the time he was a young teenager, he began to get paid for playing, and at 16 he had earned enough to buy a car. Since then, the 39-year-old virtuoso has recorded some 30 albums -one of which won him a Grammy in 2001 - and has had a wildly successful career, including a CD currently at the top of the classical charts and an appearance as himself in the film "Music of the Heart" starring Meryl Streep.
Music, Bell explained to the students, can bring you to God or to that which is beautiful.
He then played Johannes Sebastian Bach's "Chaconne" for the fifth-grade class, telling them to allow their imaginations to run.
He told them how Bach was using the music to tell a story - it depicts a life - with all of the different feelings and emotions, he said. Music can get you in touch with how you are feeling, he explained. "Music is all about that emotion," he said.
In an interview with Catholic New York, Bell said that the students already have a "great foundation" for music from the program in place. The school is a partner with the Education Through Music program, which arranged Bell's visit. All students in grades three through five take violin lessons, with students in grade six taking honors violin. Grades seven and eight take classes in percussion.
"I hope that just by showing them my enthusiasm, it will help them get to the next level," he said. He added that he hoped he would be an inspiration to them, and said, on the flip side, that they inspire him as well with their enthusiasm. "Hopefully, we all benefit from it," he said.
Just a few years ago, the future was not so bright for Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. In 2004, the principal, Suzanne Kasynski, was notified that the school was going to be closed. Due in large part to a plea from parents, a plan was accepted by the archdiocese for a reprieve of the decision. As part of the deal, however, the school had to raise $125,000 in four weeks to remain open. As the deadline approached, it looked like an impossible goal.
But thanks to a lot of prayer and a "miracle" that occurred just two days before the deadline, the principal said, a donor from Tennessee named Frank Stanley came forward with the money needed after reading about the school's plight in an article in The New York Times.
From there, the school has been increasing its enrollment, and other new growth is evident. A new playground was recently installed, and the school is now in the last stages of development for adding a chapel.
Ms. Kasynski said that the school is "really trying to develop." The students have improved their grades in math and reading, she said.
She added, "I'm a big believer in arts education because it allows students to explore talents they didn't know they had. They'll always have a love of and appreciation for music which will enhance their life - always."
Of Bell's visit, she said, "I hope they take away inspiration that will carry over from their musical study into academics as well." She said that the interaction and relationship created between the students and Bell was invaluable in inspiring them.
"I don't think they'll ever forget meeting him, or hearing him play, or seeing a Stradivarius violin," she said.
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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of Catholic New York (www.cny.org), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York,
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