Buffalo’s immigrant and refugee community has spurred a number of socio-economic developments that can be felt throughout the city. From restaurants to retail shops, the livelihood of these new Buffalonians is having an impact on us all. In order to accommodate the needs of these growing communities, longtime residents of this city are coming up with some ingenious ways to provide myriad services, many of them cultural, to those who might otherwise go without.
Take Virginia Barron for example. She’s the co-director (along with PS 45 music teacher Elise Golove and UB Assistant Professor of Music, Yuki Numata Resnick) of a relatively new organization called Buffalo String Works.
Members of the organization dedicate much of their time, energy, and expertise to provide violin lessons to immigrants and refugees within the Buffalo Public School System.
The idea behind Buffalo String Works (BSW) came about in a rather inspirational and organic way. A number of P.S. 45 International School students – a school with over 70 languages represented – were presented with a live concert in Spring of 2014, performed by a few of their teachers. After listening to the chamber-music movements, a group of students expressed to music teacher, Elise Golove, their desire to not only appreciate music, but to play it. At the time, there were not enough resources to provide the students with their own instruments, which is what ultimately led to the formation of Buffalo String Works.
From the start, Barron (viola) and Golove (piano) and Yuki Numata-Resnick (violin) realized what they had to do, but needed the resources to get the job done (see all of the instrumental players). Essentially, the lessons and the instruments would have to be free. So they spent the rest of the year searching out funds, sourcing violins that needed new homes, looking for a venue, and talking to anyone that would listen. By the time the school year came around in the fall, the pilot program was underway.
Today, the students are being taught by a handful of gifted teachers, as well as music students at the University at Buffalo, many of whom aspire to be teachers down the road. “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.*”
Incredibly, the program is now offering music to 27 students (Burma, Thailand, Iraq, Burundi, Yemen, Sudan and Nepal), and is anticipating on growing to 40 West Side students (ages 10-14) in the near future.
Lessons are held at the Concerned Ecumenical Ministry – a former church that also happens to offer immigrant and refugee services. Violin classes are conducted a couple of times a week, though Barron states that they would like to bump that up to three or four times a week. Lessons will also advance to offerings that include music theory and musicianship. Teachers hope to add viola and cello to the organization’s music programming as the program grows.
Buffalo is no longer a place where uttering the words you can’t is acceptable. This is now a city where everything is possible. By fulfilling the music dreams of young immigrants and refugees who are still learning to grasp the English language, BSW is helping to shape the future of this city, and the vast foreign populations that now call Buffalo home. After all, music transcends all languages, and is the ultimate connector between ethnicities that no longer seem worlds apart.
*Quote from a recent blog post on musicovation.com
This program was made possible by help from Friends of Vienna, UB Department of Music, Buffalo Chamber Music Society and individual donors.