The value of a musical education begun during the early years of childhood has been well-documented; students who are exposed to musical instruction while young tend to do better in math and language arts and — more importantly — they develop a musicality that will remain with them for as long as they choose to use it, and can always be re-gained. At a recent family event our sons brought out a guitar, a uke, a mandolin and (and a fiddle for a guest) and it was kind of delightful to have a bit of impromptu live music in the backyard.
To have music in one’s life — to be able to access another form of expression and draw it forth, when words will not do — it’s a wonderful thing. Allison Salerno profiles a young music teacher named Sherri Anderson, who understands all of that, and who also understands what it is like to be too poor for lessons:
In 1997, Anderson founded the Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra of Greater Princeton, whose players’ home lives are extraordinarily varied. In 2002, Anderson expanded her mission, founding the Blue Mountain Chamber Music Festival, in Trenton, New Jersey. The camp gathers children—many of them with limited resources and poor access to high-quality musical instruction—and offers them classes in music theory, chamber ensembles, orchestra, ear training, and movement. The festival also has a residential component: for two weeks the students train with world-class musicians while using the facilities at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. No child is turned away because of an inability to pay.
Her childhood faith experiences influenced Anderson’s career path. “My faith experience was always based in communities where there was more than your average amount of need . . . so . . . poverty. Alongside the middle class there was the reality of poverty, the lack of resources, the mental-health issues, the unstable homes. That was never a reality I didn’t know. I knew that that was a place where I was going to work.”
Sherri was the lone daughter in a family of five children. Her father’s job as pastor offered a housing allowance but no salary; he worked as a public school teacher in Wilmington, Delaware to pay bills. She began taking violin lessons at age seven. When she was ten, her parents told her the lessons would have to stop because they could not afford them. “[Her beloved violin teacher, Estella Frankel] actually taught me for free for a year. Otherwise I actually might not have kept playing.”
In about a month, most members of Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra are flying to Europe for a tour. Their itinerary includes Brussels, Cologne, Sofia, and Belgrade. For some of the musicians, heading to Europe is no big deal; there is plenty of room in the family budget. For others, it is a bit of a stretch. And for some, it is impossible. Families have been hosting fundraisers all year to make sure every musician who wants to go, will.
Says Anderson: “When I teach I teach so that my students can be excellent. That is why we study and do what we do. Wherever my students come from I just assume the opportunities are for all my students. “
The Orchestra is a few thousand dollars short of their goal. Tax-free donations for the tour can be made here, via Paypal.
The world is so thin of safe places full of promise; it’s wonderful to encounter one in the Stretto group.
Take a listen: