PATERSON—On March 10, nearly 300 students from seven New Jersey immersive ensemble music learning programs will converge in Paterson for the 4th annual Fiddlefest and Falala Festival. A day of music making and a celebration of culture and community for both the students and their families, the festival features the Paterson-based program Paterson Music Project (PMP), in addition to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra CHAMPS, Union City Music Project, Trenton Music Makers, Sonic Explorations, Sister Cities Girlchoir, and Keys 2 Success. In a city that has struggled to keep the arts alive for its youth, the festival marks a milestone as Paterson emerges as a state and national leader in the education model which all seven programs follow, El Sistema.

Says PMP Education Director Shanna Lin, “Students, families, and instructors are traveling to Paterson from Newark, Orange, Union City, and as far afield as Trenton to participate in the 2018 Fiddlefest and Falala Festival at Paterson’s School 15. While students participate in orchestral playing, drumming, and singing classes throughout the day, their family members learn songs and play rhythm games. It is truly a family event. The festival culminates in a massive performance by all of the young musicians for their families and the public.”

Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts’ Paterson Music Project formed in January of 2013 to launch an El Sistema-inspired string program for 30 second graders at the Community Charter School of Paterson. Now in its fifth year, PMP serves over 250 students in grades 1-8 from five Paterson schools, including the Community Charter School of Paterson, School 1, School 26, School 15, and Norman S. Weir Elementary School. Not only are the arts growing in Paterson with PMP’s expanding programs, but the city has also found itself a state leader in El Sistema-inspired music education, an educational trend taking off internationally for children in underserved areas with the greatest needs and fewest resources. The success of Paterson’s El Sistema programs is evident in a recent nod from the National Endowment for the Arts who this week announced a Challenge America grant of $10,000 awarded to the Paterson Music Project.

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The El Sistema movement began decades ago in Latin America and now reaches almost a million children in 65 countries, with 130 programs in the United States. Research shows that immersive music learning inherent in the El Sistema education model, with many students receiving at least six and sometimes up to ten hours of training a week, can lead to multiple benefits for children from improving their early cognitive development to enhancing academic achievement across acaedmic subjects and raising graduation rates. Programs nationwide are hoping that El Sistema-inspired music education will more succesfully connect with their communities and create positive educational outcomes beyond what is provided by traditional core curriculum of math, English, science, and standardized test preparation.


The Fiddlefest and Falala Festival is sponsored by the El Sistema New Jersey Alliance (ESNJA), a network of programs across the Garden State that use the El Sistema model of music education as a vehicle for youth development and social change. PMP has been involved with the NJ Alliance since its inception, and PMP Director of Education Shanna Lin serves as its Project Manager. On the national level, five PMP delegates attended the El Sistema USA symposium last month at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. PMP Program Director Elizabeth Moulthrop served on the planning committee leading up to the annual symposium.

In addition to the Fiddlefest & FaLaLa Festival being held in Paterson, the El Sistema New Jersey Alliance provides other opportunities for students of its member programs to learn and share with peers, including a three-day summer camp and Martin Luther King Day concerts. The Alliance and its member programs aspire to change long-term educational and life outcomes for New Jersey’s most underserved children.


Based in Paterson, New Jersey, the Paterson Music Project (PMP) is an El Sistema-inspired program of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts that uses music as a vehicle for social change by empowering and inspiring children through the community experience of ensemble learning and playing. PMP provides intensive, low-tuition musical training to students throughout Paterson after school. Students study a primary instrument (violin, cello, viola, bass, clarinet, flute, trumpet, or percussion) and participate in ensemble practice and instrumental sectionals. Students perform frequently for the school and community. PMP also offers a Saturday Community Music Program which includes a city-wide orchestra, intergenerational choir, and an Afro-Fusion percussion ensemble. PMP now serves almost 300 students in grades 1-8 from five Paterson Public Schools including the Community Charter School of Paterson, School 1, School 26, School 15, and Norman S. Weir Elementary School. For more information, visit

The Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts’ mission is to provide the highest quality performing arts education to a wide range of students in a supportive and inclusive environment, where striving for personal excellence inspires and connects those we teach to the communities we serve.


Wharton is New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community performing arts center serving over 1,400 students through a range of classes and ensembles including the 14 ensembles of the New Jersey Youth Symphony which serve 500 students in grades 3 - 12. Beginning with Early Childhood music classes for infants and toddlers, WIPA offers private lessons, group classes and ensembles for all ages and all abilities. We believe in the positive and unifying influence of music and the performing arts and believe that arts education should be accessible to all people regardless of their ability to pay. We teach all instruments and voice and have a robust musical theatre program.


Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts is located in Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Paterson, NJ and reaches students from 13 counties. All of WIPA’s extraordinary faculty members and conductors hold degrees in their teaching specialty and have been vetted and trained to enable our students to achieve their personal best.