“Somewhere…there’s a place for us.”  So goes one of the most beautiful songs Leonard Bernstein ever wrote—part of the legendary musical West Side Story.

On Sunday, April 22nd, children of a unique New Jersey music education alliance will perform the song on the stage of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to open a New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concert.  The young musicians are students from after-school programs across that state that are based on access and inclusion, musical immersion, and cooperative ensemble learning.  For many of these children, the words of the song “Somewhere” resonate strongly.

Their performance is part of “Bernstein at 100,” a global celebration of the late and beloved composer/conductor’s centennial.

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The 35-member ensemble, aged 11 to 18, is the advanced group of the El Sistema New Jersey Alliance (ESNJA), named for the El Sistema movement for youth development and social change through music, which began decades ago in Latin America.  The movement has spread around the world, reaching almost a million children in 65 countries, with 130 programs in the United States.

The students performing “Somewhere” on April 22nd will represent the 800 students and 7 programs of ESNJA.  Member programs are NJSO CHAMPS (Newark), Paterson Music Project, Union City Music Project, Trenton Music Makers, Sonic Explorations (Orange), Sister Cities Girlchoir (Camden), and Keys 2 Success (Newark). 

“The students are so excited to join their peers from across the state to play this inspiring music, and the NJSO is proud to celebrate their achievements through this unique performance opportunity,” says Joanna Borowski, Assistant Director of Education at the NJSO.

Unlike other youth ensembles, the programs of ESNJA require no auditions and provide instruments free of charge. The learning model prioritizes mutual support, engagement, focus, and joy.  Research shows that immersive music learning can lead to multiple benefits for children—improving their early cognitive development, enhancing academic achievement across the curriculum, keeping them engaged in school, raising graduation rates, and helping them develop self-esteem and social skills. 

For further information, contact Catherine Levin, Vice President of Marketing & External Affairs, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, at 973.735.1711 or clevin@njsymphony.org.

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 patersonmusicproject.org.

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.