Neighborhood Strings Blog

What is new with Neighborhood Strings?

Neighborhood Strings@ChamberFest
Posted August 2022
Ariana Falk, Education Director

For the first time, we ran a second full week of camp especially for Neighborhood Strings, generously funded by the United Way, at the Main South CDC. Twenty young people joined us, including students from each program site. The opportunity to play together for hours each day was a huge growing experience! For many of them, this was by far the most time they had spent with their instruments, and we got through material that would have taken months during the year. With all teaching staff present, we progressed through advanced music, fun tunes, improvisation games, and technique sessions. Everyone joined together for one session each day for a big, joyful group fiddle-music session. College students joined older Neighborhood Strings students as counselors, helping their younger peers musically and socially to navigate the days. Despite the sizzling stretch of weather, we had daily outside time and fun musical-social activities. We hope to make Neighborhood Strings week an annual tradition!

Much to Celebrate!
Posted June, 2022

Neighborhood Strings is finishing up its 10th year, and we celebrated with a special Benefit Concert on June 9 at Mechanics Hall.  We were joined by guest artists Simone Dinnerstein, piano, and composer Milad Yousufi. Neighborhood Strings performed the world premiere of Yousufi’s Solitude, commissioned by WCMS.

We are honored to have been chosen to receive very competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Carnegie Hall PlayUSA to support Neighborhood Strings!  We’ve also been selected for two United Way of Central MA grants — one of which will support a full week of ChamberFest camp for all our Neighborhood Strings kids!

Neighborhood Strings is saying goodbye to its second group of high school graduates. Just like last year, all members of this year’s class are headed to college, including Boston College, Clark University, and WPI.  We’re so proud of them!

And finally, as if she weren’t busy enough with WCMS, Neighborhood Strings, and three young children at home, our Education Director Ariana Falk ran the Providence Half Marathon on May 1, finishing in the top 10% of more than 1900 runners, and capturing 2nd in her age group. We are duly impressed!

Fall Energy
September 30, 2021
Ariana Falk, WCMS Education Director

As summer turned into fall, Neighborhood Strings got back up and running with energy and vitality. We started the year by ogling the gorgeous mural painted in late summer at our new space at the Main South Community Development Corporation, painted in partnership with our own students and Main IDEA. If you look closely, you can see the music to “Ode to Joy” painted into the mural! At the CDC, we are happy and proud to be offering a daily string ensemble this year, running each afternoon after school. It’s inspiring to see some of the same faces turn up five days a week and to feel we are truly creating a safe, creative, and inviting space through music.

We also have lessons and ensembles at our partner institutions Woodland Academy, Learning First Charter Public School, and Clark Street School, where Debby runs a special violin program for recent immigrants and refugees in the New Citizens classroom.

We are still focusing on keeping safe with masks and small groups, but it’s an amazing feeling to be completely live and in person – the way music is meant to be.

New Initiatives

We’re thrilled to announce our partnership with Clark University’s newly established Sweeney Community Music Mentorship Program. The program will provide a structured and intensive experience for Clark students to work alongside our Neighborhood Strings faculty. Mentorship is a key element of Neighborhood Strings and this new collaboration allows us to deepen the mentorship experience.

Over the summer, we performed a free concert at UMASS Memorial Hospital as a musical “thank you” to all the employees there who had worked so tirelessly through the worst of the pandemic.  It was so well-received that we are in the process of developing “Music and Healing, a series of free concerts in accessible public spaces intended to offer moments of peace, healing, and respite to anyone who might need them.  Plans are still underway, but the idea of creating the series has been met with a lot of enthusiasm.

COVID-19 & Neighborhood Strings
Posted June 14, 2020
Ariana Falk, WCMS Education Director

The spring brought a challenge none of us anticipated with the onset of COVID and the subsequent shutdown of the schools and the world as we know it. In the midst of it all, we at WCMS felt the urgent need to keep Neighborhood Strings strong and find a way to keep our connection to our participants.

Many of our families experienced loss of employment and childcare options, and economic distress. Many parents work in essential jobs that left them at daily risk of exposure.

At the same time, kids were isolated from school, extended family, and activities, often confined to homes that were crowded. For most kids in the program, school provides daily hot meals and access to health care in addition to class.

We moved quickly to offer our private lessons online through Zoom, Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, or whatever video or phone technology the families had. The continuing lessons were intense and challenging: kids had to seek quiet space to play in homes that are often crowded or loud; they might be in charge of younger siblings or left alone for periods of the day. Some had instruments that were locked in school and needed to be retrieved; some poor or no internet access. Newer players were not used to tuning their own instruments.

Nonetheless, the teachers and parents alike found a wonderful “silver lining” in the intimacy of teaching “in” the kids’ homes. We got to connect with parents, meet pets, and develop a new kind of relationship. By the second week, nearly 75% of participants were taking lessons with teachers 1-2 times a week. In group Zoom gatherings, kids had the chance to socialize and chat with their peers in addition to playing together. The teen club gathered weekly and worked on creating an audio-engineered piece of Baroque chamber music. Kids and parents alike commented that the connection to music, their teachers, and their peers felt like a lifeline during the strangeness of the times.

On our end, the staff developed a new Online Portal for students that had practice and teaching videos, useful apps and games, and sheet music. The Portal gives any student with internet or phone access a way to stay connected to our community throughout the week.

An end-of-year “virtual concert” featured the kids recording videos of themselves playing, applauding and chatting each other between performances, receiving nice words from teachers, and eating a non-virtual cookie that was dropped off in a care package at each house. We celebrated our 3 graduating seniors who are all off to college.

Finally, near the end of the spring, our community is engaged in the national conversation around the death of George Floyd and the urgency to commit to anti-racism. The conversation is ongoing, and we feel the trauma experienced by many in our Black community.

In our group we remain to creating a shared space where all have a voice through music, and
we can recommit to working toward justice and equity in all of our practices.

Instrument Giving Ceremony and Winter Update
Posted February 2020
Ariana Falk, WCMS Education Director

In January we had our Instrument Giving Ceremony- where our Green Group students received their instruments for the first time. They spend the fall on pre-instrument work: singing, solfege (“do re mi”), bucket drumming, reading music, and even creating and decorating paper practice instruments. By this time, they are eager to learn to play string instruments!

They are so ready – knowing that this is their very first step in a long, rewarding journey toward music-making. Students like Elias and Genderson, aged 9 and 10, who arrived in 2018 from El Salvador, are overcome with happiness to receive a cello and violin. There were smiles, tears, and even a speech from Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, who honored us with his attendance.

We congratulate the older teens the NS Club, our teen leadership group, for winning a grant for a Youth-Led Project from the Massachusetts Cultural Amplify Program. The teens dreamed up a project in which they would bring in a music specialist to demonstrate and instruct them in Baroque performance practice. In addition, they will visit the rare instrument collection at the MFA and present a public showcase of their music.

Instrument Presentation Ceremony
Posted January 24, 2018
Ariana Falk, WCMS Education Director

One of the most exciting times of the year for us is when our Neighborhood Strings student musicians receive their instruments! They walk in regular people…and walk out as proud musicians.

Our Education Director and head of Neighborhood Strings, Ariana Falk, said it best that when they receive their instruments for the first time, it’s incredibly exciting and gratifying. “The instrument is like a symbol of the effort and commitment they have already made, but also of so much possibility and creativity. There is so much potential to be creative in those pieces of wood, and so many things to explore. They also feel the trust we are putting in them by giving them these fragile, art-like instruments.”

Surrounded by their families and supporters, the students – most of them from Main South – beamed with pride. For them, receiving the instruments represents much more than having that violin or a viola to finally create music on; it’s a culmination of weeks of preparation, instruction and background of those instruments. Since November, the students, ranging in ages 6-12, attended an after-school program at Woodland Academy two to three times a week to learn music fundamentals. Before the holidays, these students practice their postures and positions by holding cereal-box violins and dowel bows, prepping for the real thing.

Both 10-year-old Boen and nine-year-old Caleb said they were going to try to “see if they can play it” the minute they got home that night. The two student musicians were among 11 who received their instruments in the sixth annual ceremony for Neighborhood Strings.

If you’d like to learn more about our Neighborhood Strings program, contact Ariana Falk, Education Director for the Worcester Chamber Music Society at

Music Meets Art for Youth Art Month
Posted March 25, 2018
Tracy Kraus, WCMS Executive Director

Our free annual family concert proved to be a crowd-pleaser again. We sold out early and packed the house with an enthusiastic audience of all ages for Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” the musical fairy tale set to music as a that is a popular introduction to classical music for kids.

Worcester Chamber Music Society musicians played while Rohan Gregory narrated the piece, and Neighborhood Strings opened up the concert. To complement Youth Art Month we projected pieces by local art students on the big screen during the musical performance. The art not only punctuated the story, but showcased some excellent pieces by students from Worcester’s Chandler Magnet Elementary School.

When we reached out to Ann Rokosky, visual arts educator at Chandler Magnet, she was enthusiastic about working with us on the show. Plus, a parent of one of the students had been attending the annual concert for years with her Girl Scout Troop and urged her to get involved with us.

Rokosky shares our belief that Youth Art Month is important to communities, and gives students a chance for their voices to be heard outside of a school setting. By pairing it with our music, the school and the artwork got out to a whole new set of eyes and ears and enhanced the telling of our musical story.

“I appreciated the opportunity to work in tandem with something musical,” Rokosky told us. “Over the past two summers, I have spent some time volunteering and working with the BSO’s Days in the Arts, (DARTS Summer Program). While at DARTS I was able to be reminded of and see that an extraordinarily powerful connection can be made when all of the art forms work together (visual art, music vocal and instrumental, dance and drama). I think that music and visual art truly complement and make each other stronger when paired.”

The artwork that visually strung through the Peter and the Wolf family concert was done by the 4th, 5th and 6th graders at Chandler Magnet, and were in both 2D and 3D forms. The works were photographed and projected on the screens during the performance, and ten boards were on display in Mechanics Hall.

WCMS delivered Prokofiev’s most frequently performed work through music and narration, and the youth of Worcester brought it further to life with art