NY is a state that has always had many strong school orchestra programs and for that reason I’m thankful to have grown up here. Even though it seems like a million years ago, I can still remember when I was in third grade and the sixth grade orchestra played a concert for us in our school gymnasium. After the concert the conductor demonstrated for us how each instrument was played and how it sounded. We were then invited to sign up to learn how to play one of the instruments and I immediately chose the violin. I was lucky in that playing the violin came naturally to me and I was always able to play songs by ear. I also remember that I always wanted to play everything faster than it was meant to played, which is probably why I love fiddle music so much.
After high school I began branching out from classical music and began experimenting with other genres, like Irish fiddle, bluegrass and jazz. I even spent two years in a mariachi ensemble while I was in University in California. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as I did when I was playing mariachi music. I didn’t major in music in college but I’ve always played for enjoyment. When I think back on how many orchestras and ensembles I’ve played in over the years, and every opportunity I‘ve had to pick up my violin and jam with other musicians, I feel like had I not learned to play the violin, my life would have been filled with gaping holes where the music would have been. It’s always been a part of me.
In my early twenties I moved to Santa Cruz, California to go to University and ended up spending seven years on the west coast. I remember feeling sad when I realized that the town I was living in did not have extracurricular music programs in the public schools. I learned about Proposition 13 and how after it was passed, property taxes in CA were greatly reduced, but as a result, many of the public schools in California lost funding. As with many schools around the country that face budget cuts, extracurricular music programs are usually the first to go, and this was the case for the primary and secondary schools in Santa Cruz.
Now that I’m living back in NY and working at The Long Island Violin Shop, I am constantly reminded of how lucky the children are that live around here and have the opportunity to learn an instrument in school. Every fall, a whole new crop of third and fourth graders comes into to the shop to rent their first violin, viola, cello or bass, and it’s a privilege to be there for that experience. You know that not all of them are going to stick with it, but for some, it’s the beginning of something wonderful. This fall was a big year for viola rentals at the LIVS, which was a pleasant surprise, especially for our shop manager, Carole, who happens to be a viola player. Usually not too many kids start out playing the viola.
Music is a universal language, one that I feel every child has the right to learn. Numerous studies have been done about the benefits to learning music. It can improve memory and cognitive function as well as one’s performance in school. Learning to play in an ensemble is such an important experience, especially for children. When you play in an orchestra you learn how to work as a team and respect one another, and it teaches you how to have patience. Cell phones were not really around when I was younger but as I got older, I really began to enjoy that fact that during rehearsals everyone has to put their cell phones away and be present for the rehearsal. There’s something very therapeutic about being forced to unplug for a couple of hours and focus on the music.
We live in a crazy world where things are constantly changing, and often not for the better. I’ve always found solace and stability in playing music. Sometimes I’ll take a break from playing music for a little while, but my violin is always there when I need it. It’s old friend that I can return to for comfort. An old friend I can pick up with where I left off. Every child deserves to have that gift.
If you would like to learn more about different organizations that work to promote music education in NY and in the US please visit the links below.
New York State School Music Association - New York State Council of Administrators of Music Education - Suffolk County Music Educators Association - Nassau Music Educations Association - National Association for Music Education - American String Teachers Association