Musica Franklin moving to Turners

  • Musica Franklin students perform at Shelburne Falls Farmers Market this summer. Richie Davis—Submitted photos

  • Musica Franklin students perform at Shelburne Falls Farmers Market this summer. recorder staff/Richie Davis

  • Musica Franklin students perform at Shelburne Falls Farmers Market this summer. Richie Davis—Submitted photos

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/22/2017 10:36:38 PM

TURNERS FALLS — After two years in Greenfield, the Musica Franklin program has jumped the river to offer free music lessons at Sheffield Elementary School.

The fledgling grant-funded program, which teaches stringed instruments as well as percussion, voice and basic musical concepts primarily to disadvantaged children, offered after-school classes to Leyden Woods and Oak Courts youths ages 7 to 12 in Greenfield using a modified “El Sistema” approach. This provided free instruments and music lessons to all children. Musica Franklin launched a trial program this spring and summer at Sheffield.

“We’re investing a lot in Turners,” said program founder and director Vicki Citron, a Suzuki violin teacher who won a three-year, $45,000 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to launch the program in Franklin County a couple of years after she moved here from the Boston area. “We really need this to be a multiyear program.”

Rather than the turnover she found at the Greenfield apartment complexes, Citron said, with as many as 25 young participants at the start of each year dwindling to as few as eight, a school-based after-school program should provide enough continuity that can allow it to build over time — developing an orchestra in the process.

Citron is intent on finding a way to keep her Leyden Woods and Oak Courts pupils involved, either by hiring additional teachers to continue there or by driving them to the program in Turners Falls.

“I don’t know how it will happen,” she said. “It’s an open question. I don’t want to abandon those kids. It’s such a big issue.”

When she approached new Sheffield Principal Melissa Pitrat early last June, Pitrat was so enthused that she managed to set up a demonstration by the young musicians that was attended by 150 pupils.

“We’d never reached that many kids,” said Citron. “The plan is to teach grades 2 to 5, and everyone will be eligible.” The state grant, together with support from Klarman Family Foundation and donations from people around Franklin County, may provide for as many as 50 students to participate, if Citron is able to find additional string teachers.

Loaner violins, and this year violas as well, are being provided by the Boston-based Johnson String Project, and there will be cellos as well “if they can give us big enough cabinets in the storage room,” said Citron.

Six students from last year’s Leyden Woods program performed at an annual El Sistema showcase in Boston last June attended by 350 participants from around the state.

“It’s wonderful to take kids to the bigger world than they have in Franklin County,” Citron said. “The kids and their parents are still talking about it.”

Musica Franklin students have also performed at farmers markets around the county this summer, she said.

During this summer’s five-week 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program at Sheffield, 23 students banged out various rhythm patterns on barrel drums, learned about time signatures and musical intervals and began playing violin from the third day.

“The kids were just itching to get their instruments,” said Citron, who had two assistants to help students with posture and tuning the violins, as well as Gloria Matlock as a second teacher to instruct in percussion, ear-training and musicianship.

“We have students who, when they get involved in music, tend to do so much better in school,” said Pitrat. “It definitely can be an outlet for some students, not to mention the pride of being able to get up and perform.”

Students who participated have been invited to perform at the school’s first all-school assembly next month to spread interest to others who may want to participate. Sheffield already offers instrumental lessons in grades 4 and 5, as well as band and chorus, but this is a more inclusive offering.

“It’s open to any student who’s willing to come and stay and learn an instrument,” Pitrat said. “It builds self-esteem and pride in community. It’s a win-win for students.”

As an added bonus, students from Musica Franklin, which receives Massachusetts Cultural Council funding, won a maximum $1,000 “amplify” grant this year, which they used to print anti-bullying posters they created for Franklin Regional Transit Authority buses.

“They are all really into it,” says Citron of the program. “That’s the beauty of it. Such good stuff happens.”


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