Helping kids hit high notes

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/8/2016 2:58:24 PM
About a year ago, when violin teacher Vicki Citron — then just a year since moving to Shelburne from Boston — stood before a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce audience and mentioned her dream of launching a music program for needy kids — she had little idea of what she was getting into.

But less than five months into the Musica Franklin after-school program that began with help from a three-year Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, five Greenfield Middle School girls are filling a St. James Episcopal Church room with soulful renditions of everything from Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and “Raggmopp” to their own improvised setting, beat out on colorful barrel drums, of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s poem, “The Ocean”:

“The ocean has its silent caves,

Deep, quiet and alone;

Though there be fury on the waves,

Beneath them there is none.”

And with help from teacher Gloria Matlock, they’re also chanting, clapping and stomping in complex rhythms, “We are youth on the rise, and we’re trying to make a difference in our lives ...”

The girls, all from Leyden Woods, take part in this three-afternoon-a-week session for an hour and a half that also includes a snack served by Deerfield Academy students and music-theory lessons in the form of games for ear training, to prepare for the arrival in weeks ahead of violins donated as part of the Mass Council’s Johnson String Project lending library.

“My goal is to have them playing scales in two weeks,” Citron says. “If I give them the instruments too soon, they’ll be so preoccupied with making sounds, they’re not going to focus on technique. It’s a carrot I’m holding out to them.”

She, too, admits to playing by ear — in learning how to build community support. So far, with help from Deerfield Academy — which is providing the transportation critical to getting participants from school to Musica Franklin and then back home to Leyden Woods — and from Mohawk Trail Concerts, Greenfield Community College Business Club and others, she’s raised $40,000 of a $60,0000 budget for this first year.

Donors have also pitched in to provide tickets to see The Nutcracker ballet performed at Northampton’s Academy of Music and even to buy outfits for the students to perform in at concerts.

Now technically part of the Northampton nonprofit Multi-Arts, Inc., Musica Franklin is working on its own independent nonprofit organizational status.

Along the way, the program has also lunched a Facebook page and a website on which people can make donations and is working on a newsletter and an Indiegogo campaign. The campaign, in turn, may help pay for transportation to the June 4 Boston day-long “seminario” of workshops, rehearsals and culminating performance of El Sistema groups from across the state.

El Sistema is the 40-year-old, global movement providing musical training to every child, no matter how underprivileged, with free lessons and free instruments. Citron says that regardless of raging adolescent hormones and life’s challenges faced by the eight students she began working with in September, the resilience of the youths willing to work with her three afternoons a week has been inspirational.

Her students’ grades have improved, attitudes toward school and life have improved, and shyness has given way to pride in how they perform, she says, with 40 years of musical teaching experience in her background with which to compare Musica Franklin.

“I’m surprised they’re so enthusiastic, so resilient, so eager to learn,” says Citron, who works with Matlock and trumpet and percussion teacher Sean Elligers, as well as other part-time staff and volunteers to make the program work. “I’m just in awe of these kids. I think we’re giving them a vision and role models, and they’re so responsive to that.”

The students present monthly “showcase” concerts at the Leyden Woods Community Room — the next one is planned for Feb. 10 at 5:30 p.m. — to share with family members and others in the community what they’ve learned, and to give everyone exposure to performances, like those by cellist Mark Fraser of Mohawk Trail Concerts, a University of Massachusetts a-cappella chorus, a string quartet and others. She hopes to have the group perform at Greenfield’s Stone Soup Cafe as well.

In the background, Matlock is leading the five girls in harmonizing “Down by the Riverside” as Citron says she has hopes of finding a way to involve Turners Falls students as well and maybe even offer an intensive summer program for a week or two.

“We have room for many more kids,” she says. “Certainly, we could handle more than five, and we’d love to.”
Some of the students had participated in Artspace’s “Strings for Kids” and are eager to be playing violins again, says Citron, adding that the ear training she’s been offering will help the girls as they first learn to sing, then pluck and finally bow their parts when she presents them with their instruments.

“They’ll all know what they’re playing by ear as well as reading, so they’ll all sound great,” she says, exuding the same confidence she expects to see in the students themselves. “It’s very motivating and inspiring. Everyone will be at their own level. And they’ll know what they’re doing.”

On the Web:

You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269


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