Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A New Virtual World for the Paterson Music Project

Amid the growing concerns surrounding the COVID 19 pandemic, the Paterson Music Project (PMP) suspended all regularly scheduled classes on Monday, March 16, for what was expected to be a two-week departure from the norm. Realizing the possibility of social distancing extending beyond the projected fortnight, the administrative staff at PMP jumped into action: of Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts three programs, the Paterson Music Project was the first to establish a robust schedule of online learning for its students using the video conferencing platform Zoom. Within the first week of quarantine, PMP students had access to group learning as well as individual instructional time with teaching artists, hardly missing a beat in their music education.

Said Paterson Music Project Director Elizabeth Moulthrop, “PMP has continued virtual group and private lessons from the first moment of the pandemic shutdown. We are holding group hang-outs, which are so important for our students to maintain social contact with each other. The social connection is a huge part of the El Sistema model of teaching, which our program follows. Music is healing, and we hear every day from parents and students alike how much joy it brings into their lives, even during the COVID 19 pandemic—especially during the pandemic.”

Hosting over sixty 40-minute sessions per week, PMP classes reach Paterson students in Grades 2-9 and include violin, viola, cello, double bass, percussion, brass, woodwinds, and a drum circle, as well as private lessons. PMP has had siblings of students join its online classes who are not normally part of the program, encouraging the entire family to get involved and welcoming their participation.

“The biggest difference we have found with distance learning is that our students are not able to play together at the same time due to the internet latency," said Moulthrop. “In our Zoom group classes, the students sometimes take turns playing alone, or they mute themselves and play together. That being said, it has been a unique opportunity to explore the abundance of available music apps and games that we might not include in a traditional classroom setting. And clearly the students enjoy and need this creative outlet—we had one second grade violin student log over 8 hours of PMP instructional time, two weeks in a row!”

Against some daunting odds—Paterson has the biggest outbreak of COVID 19 in Passaic County, and per capita emergency crews are responding to approximately the same number of calls from residents suffering with symptoms as in New York City—the students at PMP have remained dedicated, continuing to practice their musical instruments and learn from home. Uplifting for both the student families and teaching artists to convene on a weekly schedule, PMP is making the best of a challenging situation, and looking forward to the day that they can once again play together in Paterson.

The Paterson Music Project (PMP) empowers children to achieve their full potential through the joyful pursuit of musical excellence. Inspired by the global El Sistema movement, PMP uses music education as a vehicle for social change in its home city of Paterson.

PMP provides tuition-free musical training to students throughout Paterson after school. Students study a primary instrument and participate in ensemble practice and instrumental sectionals. They receive an average of 6 hours of instruction per week and in addition, may participate in an optional private lesson program. Students perform frequently for the community and perform an average of 30 events annually.

The Paterson Music Project launched its first site at the Community Charter School (CCSP) of Paterson in January 2013 with 32 second graders and has since added a new class of students each year. Since its inception, PMP has partnered with the Paterson Public Schools to open programming to students at Paterson Public Schools 1, 24, and 26. PMP has also partnered with William Paterson University’s Music After School Program to create a central band site at the Norman S. Weir School to serve over 60 students. There are now 200 students in the program across the city of Paterson grades 2-9. PMP also runs Saturday classes at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Paterson.

The Paterson Music Project is a program of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts. Wharton is New Jersey’s largest non-profit performing arts education organization serving over 1,500 students of all ages and abilities through a range of classes and ensembles including the 15 ensembles of the New Jersey Youth Symphony which serve 500 students in grades 3 - 12. Beginning with early childhood music classes for toddlers, the Performing Arts School offers 500 private lessons and group classes each week, ensuring there is something for everyone of all ages and abilities.

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