A program to help Copiague students learn string instruments that was about to fold is instead raising the bar.
The D’Addario Foundation since 2013 has been giving nearly two dozen Copiague elementary and middle school students free lessons on violin, viola and cello. Starting this month, the foundation is intensifying the program by forming the Ascenté Chamber Orchestra. The students will now be practicing in pairs instead of large groups and will perform more difficult pieces as an ensemble.
“It will be highly personalized and I can work toward their individual level,” said the program’s director, Kelly Flynn, who also is one of the teachers. “It’s going to be really cool to see how they progress this year.”
The foundation is run by East Farmingdale-based D’Addario & Co., one of the largest musical string producers in the world. The foundation typically provides grants to nonprofits around the world to assist with music education. Organizers started their own program after learning that the Copiague school district — in which many D’Addario employees have children — did not have a string program for younger children and had a high number of students receiving free or reduced cost lunch. The program was modeled after the Venezuelan El Sistema instrument instruction program, which focuses on classical music education for impoverished students worldwide.
In addition to weekly lessons, Copiague students would meet on Saturdays to perform with students in the Harmony Program, a similar initiative based in Manhattan.
But the Harmony Program is geared toward younger, less experienced children, and by last year, the foundation realized the Copiague students were becoming too advanced for it, said foundation administrator Danielle Hall. So, D’Addario decided to end its program and provide students with $35,000 in scholarships to continue on their own with private lessons.
Then they had a final recital in May where students got up to talk about what the program meant to them.
“I’ve seen so much growth in me from a shy little girl,” cellist Jennifer Calderon, 14, told the crowd. “Without this program I would not be as confident as I am now.”
The sentiment was echoed by the other students.
“There was not a dry eye in the entire room,” Hall said. “We said, we need to continue this.”
So Flynn, 28, developed the new program that will build on the remaining 16 students' technique and playing skills.
"We feel a responsibility to continue to nurture their development,” said foundation director Suzanne D’Addario Brouder. “We really believe that the longer you participate in music, the more you see the cognitive benefits.”
Violinist Victoria Wheby, 12, said studying music has helped her with math and language, but she appreciates it for other aspects as well.
“You can express how you feel in so many different ways,” said the Copiague middle school student, citing Johann Sebastian Bach and Niccolò Paganini as her favorite composers. “It’s relaxing but it’s also kind of like a challenge for you.”
Her father, Donald Wheby, 54, said he’s seen how the program has boosted his daughter’s confidence and leadership abilities.
“I consider it a vital part of her education, just as important as math and English,” he said.
The D'Addario Foundation has so far spent about $400,000 on the Copiague student program. In addition, the foundation gives about $600,000 in grants annually to more than 200 nonprofits. Of those, about 50 percent are El Sistema-inspired programs. Below are some of the local El Sistema-inspired programs they supported this year:
UpBeat NYC Inc., Bronx
Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls Inc., Brooklyn
Corona Youth Music Project, Queens
Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center/Lucy Moses School for Music and Dance, Manhattan
Harmony Program, New York
Internal Creations Inc., New York
InterSchool Orchestras of New York, Manhattan
Orchestra of St. Luke's, Manhattan
Orchestrating Dreams Inc., Manhattan