Our mentors are a critical piece of our work; Neighborhood Strings has 12-15 mentors from colleges and high schools. Overall, the program cultivates multiple levels of mentorship that benefit the at-risk youth as well as the professional lives of the mentors. Our wealth of committed mentors is a unique facet of our program that allows us to provide many more students with a deep artistic experience.
Mentor Impact Statements:
Miranda Waltz-Peters, new student at Eastman School of Music, 4 years as a mentor:
What impact has working as a mentor for Neighborhood Strings had on you? Has it changed how you picture your future? What keeps/kept you coming back?
Neighborhood Strings is designed to provide free lessons to children in the community who are economically disadvantaged. Music is a tool that can be used to cross economic and social divides. When I first arrived at Woodland Academy, I was excited by the idea of working for a cause. But as I began to get to know the kids, the “cause” broke into individual faces and personalties and situations. The goal of circumventing an economic and social barrier was whittled down to the goal of repositioning a left hand on the violin. You can more easily measure progress when the measuring stick is a single child’s musical improvement, and this evidence of improvement brought me back to Woodland every week. I have found many times that it is easy to get all riled up about an issue, and much harder to actually do something about it. Neighborhood Strings has taught me to celebrate the tiny achievements and to care about the individual stories. Eventually, it will all add up.
Jill Michelhaugh, Holy Cross College student, 2 years as a mentor:
Working as a mentor with Neighborhood Strings has allowed me to discover a passion for working with kids and teaching. Before working with NS, I never envisioned myself doing anything like this. The kids are what keep me coming back. After spending three years with the program, I had the privilege to watch the growth of the students and their playing, progressing from open string parts to taking on leadership roles in NS club.
Stella Chaves, age 16, 1 year as a mentor:
The Neighborhood String Program has had more of an impact on me than anything that I have ever done before. By mentoring the students in the program, I learned how to be a teacher and role model, how to have patience, be caring, and I realized how important it is to give back and how much of an impact that people can have on the world, just by volunteering their time and talents.
It is an understatement to say that I have enjoyed my role most as a mentor/teacher and I absolutely fell in love with the students of the NS Program. Each week I looked forward to seeing the students and their progress. It is amazing how we all grew as a group over the year that culminated in the el Sistema Showcase in Boston. I was so proud to be a part of that experience.
I look forward to continuing on as a mentor with the Neighborhood Strings Program for one simple reason, my students. I am eagerly anticipating a second year with them and watching them progress even more. My sincere hope is that by mentoring them over the course of years, that I will have a real impact on their lives and future paths. The one thing that is certain, is that the students of the NS Program have changed my life as I now desire to be a teacher, especially in the area of underserved communities, as my career.
Rose Kendrick, Clark University student, 2 years as a mentor:
Can you think of a specific story or interaction between you and either the youth, another mentor, or a teacher that is especially memorable for you?
One of my favorite parts of being an NS mentor is getting to watch the kids progress week to week, month to month, and year to year. During my two years at Neighborhood Strings, I have worked extensively with each year’s “Green Group”, or brand new members learning for the first time how to read music, clap rhythms, and hold their instruments. I love witnessing their eager anticipation when, at our instrument giving ceremony, which occurs after a few months of practicing with bucket drums and cardboard violins, they are finally presented with their own instruments. I love watching them perform on the stage of Mechanics Hall for the first time during the Worcester Chamber Music Society’s family concert in December, seeing the mingling of their nerves and excitement and pride.
One specific story that sticks out in my mind is working with a young NS student named Matthew. The younger brother of one our more experienced cellists, Matthew started playing violin in the fall of 2014 in group lessons with the Green Group. This past year, after a new Green Group joined, he began taking private lessons with me on Tuesday afternoons. In between technique exercises and duets, we would often practice the ensemble pieces that we played with the whole group each Friday. Matthew’s favorite was called Dragon Hunter, a medieval sounding Richard Meyer tune. Though it was challenging for him, he would ask me to play it during all of our lessons because he liked how angry and exciting it sounded. However, on this particular afternoon, Matthew was struggling. He resisted going upstairs with me to practice, instead wanting to stay behind to draw on the whiteboard or play with classroom’s computer. Once I finally got him into another, more private classroom for the lesson, he didn’t even want to take out his violin, and quickly became distracted with the calendar and drawings that hung on the wall. Feeling frustrated, I spent ten minutes trying to get Matthew to pay attention to our warmup scales. Suddenly, he put his violin in rest position and look up at me. “Can we play Dragon Hunter?”, he asked. Grateful that he was finally engaged, I happily obliged, and we spent the rest of the lesson practicing it, breaking it down into sections, perfecting the pizzicato parts, improving our intonation. After a half and hour, we played the whole piece through without stopping, and when we were done Matthew turned to me with the biggest smile on his face. I praised his improved fingering and posture and thanked him for his focus. He grinned even wider and asked me if he could have a copy of the music so he could practice it at home with his sister. “Of course”, I replied, then followed him out the door and back downstairs, to the previously distracting whiteboard and computer screen, hopeful and happy that he was starting to see all the ways in which creating music and playing it with others can spark joy.