By David Cruz
Aaron Copland said that to stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable. But in a school system like Newark, where kids face challenges that others can scarcely imagine, music and music education can sometimes be an afterthought. But when a classical radio station and some generous listeners send a supply of instruments — over 100 in fact — that is music to the ears.
“The one thing we want is somebody else who’s going to love it and play it and make music, so if you can promise me that you guys’ll do that, they’re all yours,” said WQXR Instrument Drive Director Kathleen Drohan.
“Here’s a little secret; when schools devote time and energy and resources to the arts — music, performance, visual arts — it actually contributes to student achievement in the academic subjects,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf.
At Harriet Tubman Middle School, Principal Malcolm Outlaw says music is part of regular student curriculum. He said students like first-time violinist Joshua Moreno — Yankee fan and running back on the Pop Warner team — have found a new mode of expression.
“Now when you hear him play it’s just wonderful and there’s a lot of them that have that same story and now more of my students will have that story to tell because they’ll be able to take instruments home and practice,” Outlaw said.
“It’s fun to play,” sixth-grader Moreno said.
What does it mean for him and the kids in his class?
“Oh, it means a lot. It’s so fun to play and other kids can go home and practice every day,” he said.
Would he rather be a musician or play for the New York Mets?
“Um, violinist,” he said.
“It’s like, when I’m alone by myself, with my instrument, I feel good because it’s just me and my instrument and like nobody’s there and it feels kind of special because I’m by myself and there’s like nobody there to taunt me,” said sixth-grader Gianna Marshall.
This is a pretty good rack of instruments, but you can never have enough instruments for kids, right?
“No, we have almost 300 children and every child should have an opportunity to play, so now this just gives more children an opportunity with these instruments that were given to us,” said instrumental music teacher Shariff Elhagin.
In all, seven Newark schools will get instruments, tools to — as a philosopher once said — wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
The sound of kids at play is its own special melody but when you put instruments in their hands, then you’ve created an opportunity for a remarkable symphony.