Youth connect through music with Musica Franklin

  • Musica Franklin participants Jackson Crowell, Angelina Jimenez and Justice Tyler perform on violin at Leyden Woods Family Night this week. Jackson Crowell, Yadrieliz Torres, Angelina Jimenez and Justice Tyler drum at Musica Franklin event this week at Leyden Woods Community Center. Richie Davis—Richie Davis photos

  • Musica Franklin participants Jackson Crowell, Angelina Jimenez and Justice Tyler perform on violin at Leyden Woods Family Night this week. RECORDER STAFF/Richie Davis

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/16/2016 10:28:36 PM

Grammy-Award winning saxophonist Charles Neville may have been the headlining special guest, but the stars of a recent monthly Family Night at Leyden Woods were, as always, the Musica Franklin kids.

Seven students of the after-school community program beat out rhythms on colorful barrel drums, performed in a choreographed dance ensemble and played violin as 40 to 50 adults and children in the Community Room watched and listened.

As with similar events at Oak Courts, the community nights are a way to bring parents, students and others together to show how well participants are doing, along with the program itself, now in its second year.

Based on the 40-year-old El Sistema model of offering basic music training to under-privileged children with free lessons and instruments, Musica Franklin has more than 15 students attending free classes regularly twice a week at Leyden Woods and once a week at Oak Courts.

“On the one hand, we’re thrilled to be at the housing communities because people can see what’s going on and they get to see the kids in a new light, focused,” says program creator Vicki Citron, a former Boston area violin teacher now living in Colrain who won a three-year, $45,000 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to launch it in Franklin County. “It’s changing attitudes about who these kids are.”

The program is open to children from around Franklin County, with open enrollment at any time, Citron said. Some participants are from outside the two housing communities, and some are home-schooled.

Yet the immersion program, which last year offered middle-school-age participants six hours of training at a single location in downtown Greenfield, now offers two-hour sessions at the two apartment complexes for students age 7 through 11 or 12 because Deerfield Academy wasn’t able to offer after-school transportation again, Citron said, “so we’re not able to have enough hours at each site.”

In fact, transportation is a key challenge for Musica Franklin, says Citron. She sees long-term program goals as bringing the students together once a month and offering the same experience to kids in Turners Falls.

“It’s a problem everyone faces, when I talk to other nonprofits,” says Citron. She faces transportation obstacles in even accepting an offer for students to perform at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in coming months. “That’s life in a rural area; we’re spread out. I’m trying to think outside the box: How do we do this?”

Still, Citron said, the program — which works to teach participants they can overcome obstacles through focus — received enough community support that the organization has been able to raise its required local match for the Massachusetts Cultural Council grant.

She loves working this year with younger students, who she sees as “more open-minded and less self-conscious, and she sees a benefit to being based right in the housing complexes, where parents can become actively involved.

Abdoul Samake, Leyden Woods’ resident services coordinator, agrees.

“This is low-income housing, and these kids are participating … to create music, getting to know each other,” he said.

The housing complex has been undergoing a reconstruction project for the past 18 months, which he said adds to the other stresses in the lives of these children.

“It’s showing people that it’s possible to come together in a non-conflictual, productive, happy way,” he said, pointing at an audience of siblings, parents, grandparents and Musica Franklin supporters from outside the housing projects. “What can be better than music to take that stress off the kids’ minds?”

You can reach Richie Davis at

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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