Chaos and Joy: Second Trenton Music Makers Site Opens At Dunn Middle School

Middle School is different. We thought we'd need to recruit intensively, that our teachers should visit sixth and seventh grade classrooms and demonstrate a little of what they'd be teaching and what the new after-school orchestra would be like. Get a few kids to come, who would then get their friends. Maybe we'd have 20, which would be enough to launch the new site.

"Hey guys," said Antonio Ruiz, our new Site Coordinator and a very popular math teacher at Dunn School, "I think you're not going to need to recruit. The word is out and I already have a waiting list."

A waiting list? Before we opened the doors? It turns out that's the state of the performing arts in the Trenton Public Schools. Maybe it had something to do with the success of Nathan Cohen's band program, maybe the leadership of Principal Madeline Roman, maybe the news about the Trenton Music Makers' amazing performance last spring for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. But sure enough, when we arrived at Dunn Middle School on October 3, Mr. Ruiz's classroom was packed to the rafters. Not just the 24 students that we thought of as capacity, but 37. They had come because Mr. Ruiz said we'd see how much of the waiting list we could accept, and they wanted to see this for themselves.

Our teachers didn't drop a beat. The string teachers pulled out their violin and cello to demonstrate, showed the students how the vibrating string caused the bridge to vibrate, the sound post to vibrate, and the instrument to resonate. Our drumming instructor Steven Jack brandished his drumsticks and played riffs on the tables, the blackboard, and finally on the plastic buckets that the students will play this year in the bucket-drumming brigade.

And then the work began. Each student had a chance to try the violin and the cello, with the teachers' help. Some of them laughed because it felt so different from what they'd expected. Some of them knitted their brows and made the earnestly squeaky sounds you expect from a first-time string player. One girl proudly showed us the hot pink violin that her parents had given her for Christmas when she'd begged for it, and then it was our turn to be amazed: thanks to the time she'd spent on YouTube, she knew all of the parts of the instrument, knew how to tune it (sort of), and played us a heartfelt rendition of "Ode to Joy." She beamed: she knew that eighth graders had the lowest priority for the program, but could she join?

Why yes she can.

Middle School is different. When the kids were waiting their turn to play, they didn't just wait. They talked, they laughed, they took selfies. We're going to be realistic: we know that not every one of these 37 will join us for good, but we're so happy that we got such a chaotic start, bursting at the seams, just based on the rumor that we were coming.

The Dunn School Site is open! Enjoy a few more pictures by clicking here.