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June 09, 2011

Musician Preps Kids for Carnegie Hall Debut

Program pairs professional musicians with students

Last October, Nathan Schram was giddy with anticipation.  He had graduated a year earlier from university and had just joined the Academy - a program designed to help classical musicians like himself take on the challenge of building a career.

The Academy’s philosophy is that, aside from being an excellent musician, success also means being an educator and ambassador for classical music.

So Schram was assigned to P.S. 75, an elementary school in a working class neighborhood of Brooklyn. He would be coaching some of the students in instrumental music.  Last October, he described how he felt about the invitation to join the Academy.

"It sounded like it was going to help me communicate better with audiences.  I was going to find a newer audience.  I was going to help people that might otherwise not be able to experience this music and maybe I could learn something from them, too."

Many days have now passed.  Last month, Schram was working toward the end of PS 75's academic year.

"It’s nice coming in here and building a relationship, seeing the kids that may be struggling one week all of a sudden are really doing incredibly well the next week."  

Schram and the school's violin teacher, Zelman Bokser, were helping students prepare for the Link-Up program - where the kids appear onstage at Carnegie Hall.

"So they’re going to be playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  An arrangement a little bit of a simplified version of it, where they’re going to be doing Ode to Joy with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s."

Bokser says, in just five weeks, the kids had to learn seven new pieces to perform at Carnegie.

"None of it, for this particular group, none of it is a stretch, technically," Bokser says. "But learning so much of it in such a short time, that’s a big scramble - and they have to know it from memory."  

The fourth grade class couldn’t wait to get to Carnegie Hall.

"My name is Petal Jadeo and I was really surprised, because we never, ever, ever been to play to Carnegie Hall in our lives!"

And one week later, there they were.

The kids, in new T-shirts, shared the stage with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and other school children. Carnegie Hall’s vast auditorium was filled with students from all over the New York area. And when the time came, the kids played their hearts out.

Afterwards, the PS 75 students went to Central Park to eat some lunch and let off steam.

"I felt very excited," says Lizbeth Nuñez, "but when I was looking at the people I was like “whoa!” - more than 1,000 or 1,500 people were there."  

A week later, in a practice room at the prestigious Juilliard School, Schram reflected on his year in the Academy, his new friends and colleagues, performance opportunities and especially his experiences at P.S. 75.

"I just had my last teaching day today and it was, certainly, bittersweet; it was definitely, hands down, the hardest part of the program."  

Throughout the year, Schram performed in many places, with some of the biggest names in classical music. But, unlike his students, he was not onstage in the main auditorium at Carnegie Hall.  

But he’ll keep working on it next year, when he completes the second year of his fellowship and his work at P.S. 75.