Trenton Music Makers will begin the program year next week, with eight new instructors, a new middle-school site, and an orchestra twice the size of last year's.
"One of the promises of El Sistema is that the kids know we are there for them to continue developing their music skills, and as a social community, through high school," notes Ronnie Ragen, the Program Director. "We won't let them age out." Indeed, growing along with our players is both our joy and our necessary next step: last year's fifth graders have entered middle school. So on October 3, our new Trenton Music Makers site will open at Grace A. Dunn Middle School in Trenton's South Ward.
The pilot year at Dunn school will include up to 25 students, playing violin, viola, cello and bass. The teaching team includes Laurie Cascante, cellist and teacher, and Jose Gregorio Sanchez Rodriguez, violin and viola. Ms. Cascante, a teacher of Suzuki and traditional cello at Westminster Conservatory, is an alumna of the Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple University, and maintains an active teaching and performing schedule. Mr. Sanchez is a native Venezuelan and a student of Jose Antonio Abreu in the original El Sistema program. After playing in the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, he earned his degree at The Juilliard School, and taught with Play on Philly! before moving to Mexico to establish his own El Sistema-inspired orchestras in Mazatlan and Veracruz. He has just arrived back in the USA and is making his home in Trenton.
In addition to their chosen instrument, the new students at Dunn will learn drumming with Steven Jack, another new member of the team. A Central Jersey native, Mr. Jack has played drums from a young age, studying at the University of Connecticut, touring and recording with a number of R&B, country, and rockabilly bands in addition to playing symphonic percussion. Nathan Cohen, teaching musicianship and improvisation, is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and well known in Trenton for having jump-started the music renaissance in the Trenton Public Schools with his now renowned Dunn School Band.
Meanwhile the Grant Elementary School site will reopen on Tuesday, September 27, with 70 players where last year there were 45. Barrington Brown, Steven Merdian, Anita Hill and Priscilla Allman, last year's faculty, will be joined by six new teachers: in addition to Jose Sanchez and Steven Jack, who will divide their time between the two sites, we are delighted to welcome Peg Banks, who for many years has taught the string program in the Princeton Public Schools in addition to serving as Assistant Concertmaster of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. Also from the PSO roster, Jody Rajesh will provide one-on-one "Tech-Time" to supplement the group instruction that is the hallmark of El Sistema programs. To complete the Grant School teaching team, we welcome Kaitlyn Baum, a recent graduate of Lehigh University and a cello teacher at the Blue Mountain Festival, Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra, and the Chapin School; and Frederic Henry, a recent graduate of Esther Boyer College of Music at Temple University and a violin instructor at the Philadelphia String Project.
"We can't wait to introduce our new teachers and the expanded Trenton Music Makers orchestra to the community," says Carol Burden, Executive Director of the Trenton Community Music School. "Strength in numbers is so palpable when kids play music together, and we've already seen the power of this program in transforming the way they work as a team. Especially as the second year of the Kennedy Center 'Any Given Child' consultancy begins, it's an exciting time for the performing arts in the Trenton Public Schools, and we're delighted for the opportunity to be part of the mix."