PROJECT MUSIC – Enriching Lives, Building Community
by RONA MANN
“If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” …Shinichi Suzuki
Joyce DiCamillo has had a lifelong love affair with music.
It propels her body, moves her soul, and is at the very core of her heart. As a professional jazz pianist who has played worldwide for more than 40 years, she cannot imagine a minute, an hour, a day, a time, or a world without music; and she has always longed to share that life-changing experience with children. Especially children who come from the inner city, who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own, yet have little chance to ever experience anything more than sounds emitted from a blaring boom box. But Joyce DiCamillo knows it doesn’t have to be this way and has spent a significant portion of her life proving her point, wishing to continue dedicating herself to this goal.
For over 24 years, while also performing and recording with the Joyce DiCamillo Trio, she was Executive Director of the Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic, a youth symphony that engaged students from all over Connecticut and Northern Westchester County to educate and enrich young people through the power of music.
In July of 2014 DiCamillo stepped down from her position with the Philharmonic and helped to launch a new model of PROJECT MUSIC, a program begun in the late 1960s by her mentor. “I had known Anthony Truglia since grammar school. Although he went on to become a state senator, he was my high school music teacher as well, and I had the greatest love and respect for him and his talent,” DiCamillo recounted of the man who died suddenly in 1987. Truglia had started a program that provided free music lessons to Stamford’s inner city youth within walking distance of their homes, and DiCamillo wanted to see that legacy continue through a reboot of the original program.
Dedicated in Truglia’s memory, PROJECT MUSIC is an after-school music education program that provides free music lessons, instruments, and mentors to inner city youth from kindergarten through 6th grade. Inspired by a program called El Sistema which was begun in Venezuela, it is a music immersion program that has had great success in South America and now throughout the world.
In Venezuela children begin as early as two years of age, the majority of whom continue into their teens. Utilizing the concept of group learning, students are prepared for participation in orchestral ensembles with ongoing instruction and constant exposure to audiences.
The Stamford program began with just 45 children initially, in collaboration with the City of Stamford and the Chester Addison Community Center (DOMUS). With the invaluable help of Stamford Mayor David Martin’s wife, Judy, DiCamillo was introduced to Pro Bono Partnerships which helped with the paperwork so that PROJECT MUSIC could become a corporation under the auspices of a fiscal sponsor. Additionally Martin opened to the door to community partnerships, introducing Joyce to the Chester Addison Community Center which is now “home” to PROJECT MUSIC and all the curious, excited, and talented young musicians who have a place to go each day after school. Further, Judy Martin encouraged DiCamillo to apply for a grant from the city of Stamford; and in 2014 was awarded $40,000 with a 6% increase in 2015.
PROJECT MUSIC “took off like lightning,” DiCamillo said. The partnership with the community center thrives (“they can’t wait to say ‘yes’ to anything we ask, or ‘how can we make that happen’)?
Classes at PROJECT MUSIC are varied and rotated, so everyone has an opportunity to experience every part of the program. Students come after school to sing in the choir, play in the Bucket Band (using drumsticks to teach rhythm), and participate in instrumental exploratory classes and musicianship classes where they gradually learn to read music.
Part of the model, according to DiCamillo, “is a lot of community performances. The kids have played at gallery openings, at the Palace Theatre, and have frequent visits from guests artists and volunteer musicians.” Engaging the parents of these inner city musicians is an important part of PROJECT MUSIC’S success, so families are frequently invited to attend both teaching sessions as well as performances and often volunteer.
Like any new experimental program, PROJECT MUSIC depends upon the partnerships it has with the community. Volunteers are always needed, corporate, foundation, and private donor support is critical to the ongoing success, and instrument drives are frequently held so that students never run out of their favorite woodwind, horn, or drum. The bottom line…is PROJECT MUSIC working for the inner city youth of Stamford?
Ian Taylor is Site Coordinator for PROJECT MUSIC and loves to talk about the success stories he sees happening almost daily right before his eyes. “Frankie and his half brother, Junior came to us as part of the original 45 students. Although Frankie was just a second grader, he was from the beginning the hardest working kid we had. He learned in a short time to play baritone horn, trumpet, clarinet, and drums. By the second year he was focusing strictly on the baritone horn so he could move on to a tuba when he became tall enough. He worked with Dan Trahey, Artistic Director of Baltimore OrchKids who was a guest artist here. Then he decided he wanted to take up clarinet, but I told him no, saying he wasn’t ready yet. But Frankie doesn’t give up. He started coming in before class to learn. Although we typically give kids three note pieces when they’re first starting out, he heard me playing some orchestral music one day and exclaimed, ‘I want to know how to play that!’ I told him it was pretty advanced, and he couldn’t do it at this time; but once again, Frankie persisted. Forty-eight hours later he played the piece solo!”
In just the first year students took over 200 hours of musical instruction, participating in more than seven performances across four cities in Connecticut. They worked with local and national guest artists and shared their common passion with more than 20 visiting students from the national network of El Sistema-inspired programs.
Now as the third year begins, there are intensive music classes, master classes and workshops, and more and more students finding a home each afternoon at Chester Addison Community Center. The dream that Anthony Truglia had begun continues to flourish and grow in Stamford, a model for other cities across the state. “I envision a very different Stamford in 15 years,” says Joyce DiCamillo. “I want every inner city kid playing music. We’re unlocking doors we didn’t even know were there.”
Ian Taylor remembers Frankie saying not long ago, “Some people come here (the community center) and just mess around, but we (PROJECT MUSIC kids) come to work hard, and that’s why we’re different.”
Different indeed. Ian Taylor recounts that one story, but there are hundreds more in the making every day. Just ask Frankie. Spanish used to be his first language…now it’s music.
To make a much-needed donation of an instrument(s) or if you would like more information, visit: www.projectmusic.org (203) 539-1733
If you wish to make a tax-free monetary donation, P.O. Box 112016, Stamford, CT 06902