Hours before Paterson’s first city-wide music festival in nearly 20 years, violinist Hector Otero wasn’t nervous, even though the ill conductor was still absent. As a concertmaster, his 17-year-old Otero had to intervene with his classmates and attend the final rehearsal.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” says Otero, as the sounds of controlled strings, horns and drums echoed through a nearby practice room.
High school senior Otello, who won a full-ride scholarship to study music at Montclair State University, proves the poise of a veteran performer. The Paterson Music Project is her 10th year nonprofit, a state-funded arts education program offered at affordable prices after school and on weekends.
The music project, which began in 2013 with just 30 students, now has two locations in Paterson (PS 16 and Community Charter School) and another in Woodland Park, serving a combined total of 470 students. offers. At Saturday’s event, the All-City Festival, the musical talents of more than 250 of his students from his 28 Paterson schools at John F. Kennedy High School echoed in the hallways.
“This concert isn’t just for the students in our program. It’s our first citywide event since 2007,” said Shana Lynn, Director of Music Projects. “There’s no better way to celebrate our 10th anniversary.”
The continuing threat to arts education has historical precedent. According to Michelle Van Hoeven, art and performing arts supervisor at Paterson Public Schools, the effects of the Cold War and the mid-century space race forced the school’s curriculum to focus heavily on her STEM subjects. became.
School districts (often low-income communities of color) that face shrinking budgets are still quick to abandon arts programs.
Van Hoeven, who began working as a music teacher at the Rosa L. Parks School of Fine and Performing Arts almost ten years ago, has seen the ups and downs of fundraising over the years. Van Hoeven, who now heads the city’s arts education department, is advocating from within.
“Music and arts programs are generally expensive,” Van Hoven told Paterson Press. “But we have since realized how important arts education is.”
Advocates such as Van Hoven promote the benefits of arts education in childhood and adolescent development, arguing that it also benefits mental health, which is so important in times of cyberbullying and pandemic-related trauma. increase.
“It provides an opportunity for students to explore themselves as people, enhances their creativity and boosts their motivation,” said Van Hoven.
According to 16-year-old Geanelly Vallecillo, students also form close bonds with other young musicians. With the help of her sister Hayley Valesillo, 14, who is also a violinist, she persuaded her parents not to move to Connecticut instead, staying in Paterson and working on her music projects. finished her tutoring.
Saturday’s All-City Music Festival program featured nine songs, ranging from folk songs to Scott Watson’s jazzy Awesome Sauce. The finale was a “collective composition”, an organized improvisation in which the musicians responded to specific prompts and hand gestures.
16-year-old third grader Rachel Diaz said: “With that one idea, like a spark, it catches fire.”