It was 1998 and our co-founders, Marcia Wood and Ellen Saxon, were sure there was something they could do to bring music to the lives of more children in Trenton. They looked toward the cities to the North and South along the Northeast Corridor, and was inspired by the importance of the settlement-style music schools there -- couldn't music instruction be made affordable, available, and one of the pillars of a child's life?
Turns out it could. Within ten years these two energetic leaders had built a community music school that was teaching piano, violin, cello, saxophone, voice, clarinet, bass, guitar, viola and flute, and had reached a peak enrollment of nearly two hundred students. Children and adults were passing annual tests and proudly framing their achievement certificates; they gave recitals in the school and around the community, to the delight of their families and the appreciative public.
In 2000 we discovered that we could be bringing music to preschool children, their teachers and parents, and that by starting the children early, we could lay the foundation for meaningful music education later on. Our preschool program, Music for the Very Young: Music, Movement and Literacy, was born at the Puerto Rican Community Day Care Center. In the years since then, our program has grown into partnerships with public, private, and Head Start preschools across the city.
In 2008 we were approached with a request to develop an adaptive version of the program for classrooms of profoundly deaf children, and since that time Music for the Very Young has been offered at the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf. In 2011, the Ewing Public Schools asked us to develop a version for children with special needs, and our current relationship with the Ewing Public Schools was born. Also in that year, we worked with the Trenton Office on Aging to create an Intergenerational version, which is still a big success at the CYO Preschool and the South Ward Senior Center.
In February of 2015, we embarked on a pilot project with the Trenton Board of Education, and formed Trenton Music Makers. Modeled after the renowned youth orchestras built in the barrios of Venezuela, El Sistema uses the orchestra as an engine for social development. Our instructors are "Citizen-Artist-Teacher-Scholars," and the children grow to understand that as they build competence as musicians, they grow as assets to their schools and families, and become leaders in their community.
Then that fall, we teamed up with the New Jersey State Museum and Children's Home Society to launch a three-year project funded by the PNC Foundation through its Grow Up Great initiative, Trenton Makes - WORDS! Designed to leverage the power of music in bringing families together joyfully, our piece of Trenton Makes - WORDS! provided music experiences for parents and children that build children's vocabulary, and spark conversation around new and exciting words. Our music experiences, together with the science, history, nutrition and community experiences provided by our partners, were designed to address the word deficits that had recently been documented in American preschoolers living below the poverty level.
In all the years that we have been providing affordable, high-quality music instruction to children and adults in the Trenton Community, we have learned that we create the greatest impact when we work with groups: string orchestras, preschool classes, circles of parents and children. For this reason in 2015 we re-focused our programming onto our community partnerships, and now provide all of our instruction in community-based settings: our Music for the Very Young, and the Trenton Music Makers Orchestra.
In 2017 we brought everything together under the new name Trenton Music Makers. It’s the most fitting name because it’s what our kids do, in the city that we love. We can't wait to see the ways that these programs, and the programs we build in the future, continue to support academic learning, teach discipline, and bring beauty and joy into the lives of listeners and performers throughout the Capital City region.