Knowing the broad cultural diversity present in Buffalo, the mission of Buffalo String Works is to deliver world class music education to diverse youth that inspires personal and community transformation. Beyond seeking high quality music education, BSW has built a culture of compassion and sense of belonging for all the students they serve, from refugees and immigrants to those who have long called Buffalo home.
When I first met Yuki, she quickly briefed me on the uniqueness of BSW. –¨We will do whatever it takes¨-she said several times. And once I started working with her, I saw what she meant. A big part of the BSW student base are refugee families. Some of these families went through a lot of pain to finally settle in the United States. Some of them ran away from war and other dangerous situations that forced them to find a better place to be able to survive. BSW welcomes these families, even those that do not speak English, and connects with them through interpreters, personalized communication channels, and they are currently looking to implement family counseling and emotional support. 4
Though my collaboration was virtual, I learned more deeply about BSW from two different perspectives: teaching and administrative. In preparation for teaching, I met with two violin instructors to plan and customize appropriate activities for each class. I appreciated that both teachers are bilingual in English and Spanish, and that they quickly embraced my Latina background! I requested both teachers to allow me to observe at least one session before my arrival, so I was able to see the dynamic and for the students to get more familiar with my face. During the first week, I had the opportunity to teach two groups. The first group was a violin class that happens on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 30 minutes. Some of the activities prepared included a musical overview of Costa Rica (my country of birth) with live musical examples, followed by a conversation about how music is part of our cultural backgrounds. This was a particular request by their teacher, violinist Melissa Tong. During the second lesson, I got to conduct a semi-private lesson with two students, where we worked on the repertoire they had been learning. The third session with this group included collaborating with the substitute teacher that was present that day. This group was mostly comprised of Burmese teenage girls. I was told ahead of time that they were very quiet and shy. I also took into consideration that some of these girls are still adapting to their new lives in Buffalo and they are probably going through an emotional adjusting process. Within this frame, these students were still responsive and participated in all the activities.
The second group I worked with was an introductory bilingual class, for kids from ages 5-9 years old. Since the students were younger, I planned a variety of interactive activities – conducted both in English and Spanish – including coordination of motor skills, a personalized board game, an interactive conversation to build the concepts of teamwork and leadership, as well as a reduced version of a musical overview of Costa Rica. It is worth mentioning how special it was for me to introduce a little bit of my country with great pride, not only as the place where I come from, but also as a big part of my identity. A very special moment was towards the end of my last session with this group, when a little girl asked me, ¨Do you miss Costa Rica? I am moving back to Puerto Rico after being here for almost 9 years of being in Buffalo. ¨ This made me very emotional, because being a Latina immigrant myself in the United States, I have also been scared to move away from my family and all the things I know. However, this was a great moment to address that it does not matter where you go, you will always take your identity and experiences with you, and even if you are scared at the beginning, it will be worth it because it will help you grow and you will build another family, just like you did here at BSW!
My second part of the collaboration had to do with the administrative side of BSW. Yuki expressed the need to file the repertoire that each student has learned throughout the school year to keep track of their progress. In collaboration with BSW Operations Manager and Development Associate, Julia Cordani, we implement a new system to enter all repertoire data through their current platform, AirTable. This process included working with the evaluation reports of each student and transferring the repertoire information into each student’s information. Through trial and error, I came up with a nomenclature system to enter repertoire data and I also created a document of procedures so BSW can continue to use it and improve it in the future.5
4 To learn more about the academic offer, please referred to the Logic Model attached in the Appendix of this document.
5 Document attached in the Appendix.
Implementation of a Community Outreach Program through a Student Chamber Music Program
BSW is an organization that is always implementing new opportunities for students and their families. As part of the fieldwork, I had a Design Thinking meeting with Yuki and GLP cohort members Rebecca Shasberger and Drake Driscoll, who also worked with BSW, as an opportunity to identify the most important characteristics of BSW and how to transform them into opportunities. The characteristics that stood out to me the most were value of student potential, constant growth, pure passion for families, and creative approaches. Yuki mentioned during this meeting how she would like BSW students to have multiple musical paths. Considering these strengths, current resources, Yuki´s vision, and the amazing cultural diversity in Buffalo, my Value-Added proposition for BSW is the Implementation of a Community Outreach Program through a Student Chamber Music Program, with the purpose of continuing to bring all these cultures closer together through music, and while simultaneously allowing the students to have more performance opportunities that can give them experience and visibility, as well as expanding their musical possibilities. This is a mid-term to long-term project, but the benefits of it can truly impact the social and musical development of the students, as well as creating engaging and educational musical experiences in the communities.
An outreach program like this can offer a broader vision for those students who are interested in performance, teaching, and community engagement. By implementing a chamber music program, students can put into practice their leadership and teamwork skills that are already taught at BSW.6 At the same time, this is an activity that enhances confidence, social networks, and a sense of belonging, because students are interacting with other liked-minded people and promoting prosocial behaviors.7 It can promote the cultural richness of Buffalo by performing music that represents the diverse communities, while also offering creative interactions with the audience as an educational and inspiring experience for all.
An outreach program can also increase the presence and visibility of BSW not only among families, but also local authorities and other organizations interested in planning artistic events for the social wellbeing of the people they serve.
6 To learn more about BSW leadership opportunities, please refer to the Logic Model provided in the Appendix.
7 The Power of Music. Hallam. Page 87