PATERSON, NJ- Local and school officials, teachers, parents, and other supporters tapped their toes along with the Paterson School 24 of Fine & Performing Arts concert band on Thursday at their annual Winter Showcase.
With Christmas already in the air, the spirit of giving came alive at the event as the students were on key and in perfect rhythm thanks in part to the generous donation by the VH1 Save the Music and the Sound Start Foundation that had them all playing brand new instruments.
“It’s always a special day when we can see and hear our students perform,” Florita Cotto, the school’s principal said. In addition to thanking the donors Cotto would go on to extend special praise to the teachers that have “made a commitment to the arts by encouraging the students to participate in music, drama, and dance,” as well as the parents for reminding students to practice and rehearse.
“You’re are showing your students how much you value their participation by being here today.”
Speaking to TAPinto Paterson before the event Nancy Horowitz, the school’s band director, showered praise on Cotto for her dedication, as the school’s principal, to making sure the students are as equipped as possible to hone their skills and showcase their talent. Recalling that when she started teaching 16 years ago students were relegated to a hallway with no musical instruments, Cotto said it was the generosity that came from throughout the region in the form of donated instruments that helped keep the music playing.
Included in that effort was Jackie Burrows, a Hawthorne resident who, as a long time mail carrier, including for Horowitz, would solicit used instruments from homes on her daily route. Asked why she decided to take up this particular cause Burrows said that it’s rooted in her belief that if children can learn music the can learn anything, as well as the fact that Paterson is “a town we all love.”
As for the eventual donation of the 40 brand new instruments the musicians performed with on Thursday, it was a perfect confluence of events, Chiho Okuizumi-Feindler of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation said, that brought the program to Paterson.
At a September meeting the non-profit’s senior director of programs and policy shared, Mayor Andre Sayegh declared “the arts to be a vital part of bringing Paterson back.” With Superintendent Eileen Shafer’s similar sentiments, the recent revelation that the school’s instruments had been rendered unusable by mold, Sound Start’s decision to fund a school in northern New Jersey, and the Foundation’s guiding principle that “every student has a right to make music,” the stars aligned, she said.
In addition to the forty instruments, including drums, clarinets, and saxophones donated to School 24, School 21 also received recorders to begin developing their own musical skills. The nationwide effort, which has set a goal of donating 10,000 instruments to children worldwide by the 2020-2021 school year is also providing music technology, books, and other equipment to the schools.
Neither Sayegh nor Deputy Superintendent Susana Peron left any doubt about the impact the donation would have on the students, and Paterson.
“Paterson has talent,” Sayegh said before reminding the audience that he recently reestablished the city’s defunct Grass Roots Culture Arts Commission partially because of his belief that through the arts “our youth can flourish.”
Peron added that by reintroducing music into all of the the city’s public schools, students will also, as research suggests, achieve academically through more advanced vocabulary, improved reading skills, and higher math performance. It is also a sign, she added, that Paterson Public Schools are truly returning to local control as music education was one of the first things cut when the state took over in 1991.
With the speaking program over it was time to get back to the music, something Kevin Zarow, speaking on behalf of the Sound Start Foundation, called “a beautiful thing.”
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