Don’t believe everything you’ve read about Buffalo!
Yes, the city does have occasional epic snowstorms, and for decades has faced the usual rust-belt challenges. What you might not know is that the city of Buffalo is on the rise. Businesses are moving back, building cranes are visible downtown, our extraordinary architecture is being dusted off and restored, and the arts are thriving. How many other mid-size American cities have a full-time orchestra not facing perennial budget crises, more than one first-rate art museum, and a 24-hour commercial-free classical-music radio station?—not to mention dozens of entrepreneurial music and arts groups!
Buffalo’s population is growing, and not just from the many young people moving back into the city. Since 2010, close to 9,000 immigrants and refugees have chosen to call Buffalo their home. On the West Side, a long-underserved part of the city, the streets are now teeming with businesses, many owned and operated by new residents. Lots of immigrant children attend P.S. 45 International School, a public school serving over 70 different language groups. This school is generally acknowledged as one of the finest in the city, but nonetheless struggles with meeting the needs of this diffuse student body. They offer as much music as they can, but unfortunately they cannot afford to run an instrumental-music program. And here, the story of Buffalo String Works begins.
The inspiration for Buffalo String Works came from a March 2014 concert given at P.S. 45. Elise Golove, a music teacher at the school, engaged a group of musicians, which included Yuki Numata Resnick (violin) and Virginia Barron (viola), to play some chamber-music movements for her students. What happened that day was very special indeed! After hearing a movement of Brahms Piano Quartet in C minor, the grade-school students tried to express what the music meant to them. One boy peered out from underneath the desk where he was hiding and said, “I think it means I love you very much.” His intuitive grasp of what the music communicated was breathtaking, and he wasn’t the only one. All of the students crowded around afterwards, wanting to try the instruments—asking “When can we play?!”
“When, indeed?” we asked ourselves. Buffalo String Works was born in order to answer this question…
Elise, Yuki, and Virginia spent the summer talking about if it would be possible to offer essentially free lessons to the children from this community. All three began the ongoing work of finding a venue, writing to potential supporters, raising some startup funds, finding (and renting) violins for the students to use, and clearing the project with the Buffalo Public Schools. By September 2014, we were ready to begin a pilot project, and off we went!
This past year, we offered two-days-a-week violin lessons to 27 students, ages 10-14—hailing from, Burma, Thailand, Iraq, Burundi, Yemen, Sudan and Nepal. Our principal venue is the Concerned Ecumenical Ministry, a community center within walking distance of P.S. 45. This building, a reclaimed church with a newly refurbished performance space, also houses refugee- and immigrant-support classes—making it a perfect venue for our students and their parents.
BSW instruction is provided by experienced string teachers, as well as violin performance students from the University at Buffalo. This arrangement serves the BSW students well, as they receive first-rate musical teaching. It also provides invaluable classroom experience for the UB students, as well as exposure to cultural environments most would never otherwise encounter.
BSW has been in operation for only one academic year so far, and yet we have already taken the students for seven different concert performances at various Buffalo locations. Our repertoire has included some of the usual beginning-violin music, but also some less conventional pieces. A highlight this spring was the premiere of a work commissioned especially for BSW: David Adamczyk’s, Pathways, an improvisatory piece incorporating elements of Iraqi, Somali, Chin, Karenni, and Burmese musical traditions.
A further highlight, at least for the students, was a trip to a local frozen yogurt emporium!
What is the future of BSW? Our immediate hope is to grow the program—to offer instruction to at least 40 string students in the 2015/16 school year. We want to be able to provide safe and efficient transportation to students who need help getting to and from lessons. Eventually, we would like to be able to offer lessons over 3 or 4 days a week, incorporating instruction in music theory and musicianship, and expand our instrumental offerings to include viola and ’cello.
One source of inspiration for BSW is the El Sistema program. We plan to join El Sistema USA at some point in the near future, so as to be able to learn from the many local music-instruction programs that have sprung up all over the world in the last decade.
Music is a universal language; indeed it may be the only truly universal language. BSW serves a population of recently displaced families brought together far from their homes and native tongues. Immigrant communities daily face severe challenges, many of which are brought on by the Babel of different competing languages. In this diffuse environment, music can provide one of the most effective ways of bringing people together. Thus the mission of BSW is of vital importance both to the students and to the community they are building within this great city.
The three founding co-directors of Buffalo String Works are:
Virginia Barron, violist and program host at Classical WNED-FM radio.
Yuki Numata Resnick, assistant professor of violin at the University at Buffalo.
Elise Alaimo Golove, pianist and teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools.
Please visit our website at buffalostringworks.org.