Neighborhood Strings instrument-giving ceremony a beautiful prelude

On a chilly winter night, young students and family members from the neighborhood gathered in the Winton Faculty Dining Room at Clark University to celebrate the love of music. The staid, wood-paneled hall was filled to overflowing on Jan. 8 for an instrument-giving ceremony and potluck dinner organized by Neighborhood Strings, the Worcester Chamber Music Society’s new program that offers free music lessons in violin, viola and cello to youths from Main South. Clark University is a partner in the Neighborhood Strings program and also will host the society’s 2013 Summer Music Festival, in Razzo Hall at Clark’s Traina Center for the Arts. Presentation of the instruments began as WCMS Education Director and cellist Ariana Falk introduced 14 children who will take music lessons at Woodland Academy in the program’s inaugural year. The students, ages 6 to 12, first performed a series of songs led by Falk. WCMS Executive Director Tracy Kraus thanked Clark University for its crucial support. Clark was the obvious choice as a partner for the program “because of the impact they’ve already had in the neighborhood,” she said, citing the input and cooperation of community leaders, including Jack Foley, Clark Vice President for Government and Community Affairs. The Clark partnership “made perfect sense, given the relationship with area schools like UPCS and others,” Kraus said, mentioning that, just the week before, the Clark Sinfonia performed for students at Woodland.

The Neighborhood Strings event at Clark was covered in a Worcester Telegram & Gazette article “Neighborhood Strings program puts instruments in Worcester youngsters' hands.” Worcester Magazine also ran a cover feature titled, “Empowering youth through music.”

Kraus, a distinguished flutist and a 1982 alumna of Clark, teaches music at the University and at other area colleges. After singing, the kids sat attentively and, along with an appreciative audience, were treated to a series of complex classical string duets performed by Rohan Gregory on violin and WCMS Artistic Director Peter Sulski on viola. Sulski is on the Clark faculty and teaches at colleges in the region. He directs the Clark Sinfonia. He is currently recording the entire solo works of J.S. Bach for violin and viola, and has performed portions of his planned, six-year cycle of concerts at Clark. Gregory, with violinist Krista Buckland Reisner, Sulski and cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws, is a member of the QX string quartet, which has been in residence at Clark.

Assisting with the event were Clark University students Lina Nguyen ’16, a program mentor, and graduate intern Lisa Villani ’12, who is pursuing a fifth-year master’s in public administration. Kraus named other Clark mentors in the Neighborhood Strings program: Karissa Lear ’13, Melissa Skubel ’13, Lauren Kelly ’15, and Mehran Ali ’16. Christine Covino ’12 also is a graduate student intern, and Louisa Hawkins ’13 will help manage the society’s video production. At last came the ceremonial handing out of the instruments. Falk presented each student with a violin, viola or cello and Falk led each child in a pledge to respect and care for the instrument and to always “have fun making music.” After much applause, photography and video-taking, the students packed away their new strings, which are leased to the program by Johnson String Instrument in Newton Center. Finally, parents, siblings and the budding musicians headed to a long table loaded with pizza, cake and more. Neighborhood Strings represents the Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) initiative, Clark University's pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts experience with authentic engagement in the world and workplace. “The Neighborhood Strings program is an example of LEEP and shows how Clark alumni like Tracy [Kraus] can re-engage with Clark,” said Carole Allen Scannell, a major gifts officer for University Advancement. “Such partnerships benefit both Clark and the larger community – in this case the Worcester Chamber Music Society. LEEP is building this into the DNA at Clark, and this music program is one great model.”