Two South Orange-Maplewood Middle School students have been accepted by Juilliard to participate in its highly prestigious, competitive Music Advancement Program (MAP) for instrumental instruction.

Christina Jones and Cosimo Fabrizio were accepted by the program, now in its 20th year, following auditions held at both middle schools. They are the first students from New Jersey to participate in the program.

Juilliard decided to audition students beyond the New York City area for MAP and contacted South Orange-Maplewood Director of Fine Arts Anthony Mazzocchi.

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Four students were actually accepted into the program. However, the two additional students, Christina Johnson and Matthew Williams, are moving on with other plans.

“We are fortunate in our community to be in such close proximity to the greatest music conservatory in the world,” said Mazzocchi. “Until recently this program has catered exclusively to New York City students. Given the strength of the arts in our community, I find it completely appropriate that our students are the first ever from New Jersey to finally be able to attend.”

According to the letter Mazzocchi received from Juilliard explaining the program, it is a “Saturday instructional program for highly talented children from backgrounds under-represented in American performing arts.” Students must be between the ages of eight and fourteen and have played their instrument for at least two years. Tuition is on a sliding scale based on family income. Students will receive private lessons from members of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra and the Juilliard faculty at Lincoln Center each Saturday from January through May.

Cosimo was thrilled to have been accepted. Although he plays guitar, alto and tenor saxophone and string bass, the sixth grader is attending classes in guitar at Juilliard. “When I auditioned, I really didn’t think I had a shot,” said Cosimo. “This is such a big opportunity for me. I get to advance in something I really love to do.”

“Cosimo is a very natural musician,” said Don Tighe, SOMS orchestra teacher. “He would flourish anywhere but, Julliard is the optimum place for him.”

Bill Cook, SOMS band teacher, agreed with his colleague. “He’s an unassuming, humble young man with a lot of talent. Even though he already played other instruments, Cosimo approached me to ask if he could also learn the string bass. In addition to Juilliard, he was accepted into the New Jersey Region I Elementary Honors Band as a sax player.”

When asked if he had time for anything else in his busy schedule, which includes many hours of practicing, Cosimo said that he finds time to play tennis and be on a traveling soccer team. He also said although he likes all academics, he likes science best because he wants to be a pediatrician.

“I want to thank my parents, Mr. Tighe, Mr. Cook and my private guitar teacher, Mr. Ray West, for all they have done to help me,” said Cosimo. “I couldn’t have gotten this far without them.” 

Maplewood Middle School seventh grader Christina Jones was also so appreciative of the support from her parents and teachers. “I always dreamt about going to Juilliard and now I’m there,” she said.

Jennifer Dodge, Maplewood Middle School instrumental teacher, said she’s known Christina since fifth grade and “she was always an enthusiastic music student, right from the beginning. She always had that spark and I am so proud of her.”

Christina is currently taking private lessons from Ms. Meta Weiss, through the Juilliard program. Previously, her teacher, for many years, was Naomi Shapiro.

“I practice for about one and a half hours each day and more on weekends,” Christina said. “But I find time to do other things I like as well. I’ve been attending classical dance classes for eight years and I sing and play the cello in church.”

Christina went on to explain that singing in her church choir isn’t exactly what one might expect. She sings in Swedish at the Swedish Seaman’s Church in New York City. “I speak fluent Swedish and spend my summers in Sweden where attend school.”

The Youth Orchestra of Essex County is also on Christina’s extracurricular list along with Girl Scouts. “My friend from South Orange Middle School and I are working on a Silver Award Project in Girl Scouts,” Christina said. “We’re organizing a music group from both middle schools to perform for senior citizens. There’s a missing link in the generations and this will help us all get to know each other better.”

When asked about why she is involved in so many things, the seventh-grader responded, “The more you try, the more opportunities you have. I realized that the more I learn about music, the better I am at other things like dance and math.”