menu Menu
Buffalo String Works: The Power of Music in a Diverse Community
United States
Evaluating Fieldwork in the Digital Space: A Case of Introduction to Evaluation Tools for Socio-Musical Projects in Latin America Previous Foreword: The Window of Music Next
Buffalo String Works: The Power of Music in a Diverse Community

Authors: Diana Ramírez-Rosales (USA)

INTRODUCTION

Buffalo String Works (BSW) is an organization like no other for which I have worked. It is a pure example of the good that music and human empathy can bring into people’s lives when they operate together and authentically. According to Yuki Numata Resnick, BSW Executive Director and Co-Founder, everything began in March 2014 with a chamber concert at the P.S. 45 International School in West Side, Buffalo. When Yuki was performing Brahms’s Piano Quintet in C minor with her colleagues, the performers asked the students about what that music meant to them. One of the students said, ¨I think it means I love you so much¨. After that, students were filled in joy and excitement and could not wait to play the instruments.

BSW officially opened its doors in September 2014 in response to a clear issue: music education was not accessible to most of the youth in Buffalo, New York. The problem was not only that the school system did not offer music education as part of the curriculum, but also the economic situations of lots of families just would not allow them to make this possible. According to Census Reporter, in 2019, 43% of Buffalo children under 18 years old lived below the poverty line. 1

Buffalo String Works also operates in a very interesting cultural context. From 2000-2010, Buffalo experienced a foreign-born population increase of 33%, with Indian and Burmese families making up a majority of this list.2 To give an example of how that looks like these days, the current student population at P.S. 45 (the school were the recital took place in 2014) represents at least 70 countries and 40 languages spoken, including Arabic, Somali, Burmese, Karen, and Nepali.3

“The (BWS) characteristics that stood out to me the most were value of student potential, constant growth, pure passion for families, and creative approaches.”

Figure 1: Common Languages Spoken in Buffalo Public Schools. Buffalo Brief, February 2018

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.

VALUE-ADDED CONCEPT:

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

Implementation Part I

Impact Logic Model: Community Outreach Program through a Student Chamber Music Program

“It is (BSW) a pure example of the good that music and human empathy can bring into people’s lives when they operate together and authentically.”

Implementation Part II: Challenges, Strategies, Timeline, and Evaluation

In terms of the Student Chamber Music Program, one of the challenges would be finding extra budget to pay teachers for at least one chamber coaching session per week. My initial strategy would be that the current teachers from levels A and B can potentially use one of the semi-private or group lessons as a chamber coaching session to remain in the current budget. This strategy could also be effective in terms of scheduling student rehearsals. The estimated implementation timeline could be as soon as Spring 2022, since BSW is restarting in-person sessions, and the basic resources such as human resources, instruments, music stands, music library, and teaching spaces already exist. In terms of evaluation, a metric of success would be having at least 50% of the students of levels A and B interested and enrolled. The persistency of the students rehearsing on their own through weekly schedules can be tracked every week. Surveys and interviews are also useful to provide insights about the personal and musical progress of each student and these can be added into the current evaluation reports, as well as the feedback from each chamber coach.

In terms of the Outreach Program, some anticipated challenges include developing local interest from organizations and individuals. It would be of strategic interest that the students can offer workshops/conversations and use storytelling to talk about how important music can be for the communities. Extending personal invitations (as it is already done) to potential collaborators to outdoor chamber concerts could also be successful. Another potential challenge could be the performance safety concerns from parents of children under the age of eighteen playing concerts in different venues around town. Several initial strategies include BSW providing transportation for chamber groups, either through BSW budget or negotiations with the organization who will host outreach concert. Another resourceful move could be to designate a group of ¨chaperone¨ parents to offer safe transportation to the students. Considering that the student chamber program needs to be implemented and tested before the outreach program, I would aim for implementation by the year 2025. This will allow the current students to get more confident personally and musically in the chamber setting. To measure success, the number of organizations, individuals, or others that have scheduled outreach concerts with BSW can be a good sign of interest and the quality of the marketing. Receiving positive feedback from audiences via surveys, interviews, word of mouth and social media interactions can provide

positive feedback about how engaging the repertoire is, as well as the interaction of the performers with the public.

“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.”

CONCLUSION

Buffalo String Works was created in response to the lack of music education opportunities for refugee and low- income families in Buffalo, New York. Understanding the power of music as a source to empower individuals and connect with the communities, BSW created a haven space for students and families while embodying cultural diversity and advocating for social development through world class music education. Through conversations, interviews, access to evaluation records, and personal observations, and Yuki´s phrase ¨we will do whatever it takes,” my Value-Added proposition for BSW is the Implementation of a Community Outreach Program through a Student Chamber Music Program, with the purpose of bringing cultural diversity of the communities closer together through music, and simultaneously, empowering the students to discover their musical possibilities as well as growing their social skills. Looking at further opportunities for BSW through conversations and observations, establishment of a parent council is on BWS’s to-do list. I had previously recommended Yuki to consider organizing outdoor picnics and family days, so families get to know each other and share what they have and know. This will strengthen BSW’s operation, as parents feel more included in the organization, making them more likely to be interested in participating in the parent council.

I would like to express my gratitude to BSW Executive Director Yuki Numata Resnick, for her time, patience, and openness to sharing the amazing work of BSW. I also want to thank Melissa Tong and Teagan Faran, both violin/viola instructors, the BSW students, and BSW Operations Manager and Development Associate Julia Cordani, for welcoming me into the BSW family and for allowing me to learn so much from each of them. To Rebecca and Drake, my GLP fellows, thank you both for collaborating with me in group meetings, as well as the elaboration of the Logic Model and Business Canvas. You two made it so much easier and fun!

The building of this case study has allowed me to discover new teaching and administrative skills that I did not know I had, as well as pushing my critical thinking into a new level. I feel more confident in applying my experiences to help similar programs in the implementation of curricular and artistic projects, as well as organizational and administrative strategies. I envision that this case study would be an inspiration for other organizations to see cultural diversity as a strength and as an engine of inspiration to learn from one another, as well as serving underrepresented communities through the power of music by genuinely caring for their overall wellbeing of the families.

References

Buffalo Brief, February 2019. Retrieved from: BuffaloBriefTemplate1.indd (ppgbuffalo.org)

Buffalo String Works Administrative Records through AirTable Account

Buffalo String Works Evaluation reports 2019-2020. Retrieved from: EVALUATION SUMMARY.pdf

Buffalo String Works Evaluation reports 2020-2021 (Links are not displayed due to sensitive information) Census Reporter Buffalo, NY, 2019. Retrieved from: Buffalo, NY Profile data – Census Reporter

The International School PS 45. Retrieved from: PS 45 International School / Homepage (buffaloschools.org)

The Power of Music. Hallam. Page 87

List of Interviews

Introductory Interview: Yuki Numata Resnick and Raul Vergara. November 10th, 2020. Via Google Meet Proposal of activities discussion 1: Yuki Numata Resnick. March 4, 2021. Via Zoom

Follow up discussion: Yuki Numata Resnick. March 25, 2021. Via Zoom

Logic Model interview: Yuki Numata Resnick. In collaboration with GLP Cohort members: Rebecca Shasberger and Drake Driscoll. April 9, 2021. Via Zoom

Activities Interview and discussion: Yuki Numata Resnick. April 12, 2021. Via Zoom

Impact Business Model Canvas interview: Yuki Numata Resnick. In collaboration with GLP Cohort members: Rebecca Shasberger and Drake Driscoll. April 12, 2021. Via Zoom

Activity planning interview: Teagan Faran, BSW Violin/Viola/Bilingual class instructor. May 4, 2021. Via Zoom

Design Thinking interview: Yuki Numata Resnick. In collaboration with GLP Cohort members: Rebecca Shasberger and Drake Driscoll. May 6, 2021. Via Zoom

Activity Planning interview: Melissa Tong, BSW Violin/Viola instructor. May 8, 2021. Via Zoom

Activity Planning interviews: Julia Cordani, BSW Operations Manager/Development Associate. May 20,26, 27 and June 1st, 2021. Via Zoom

“It is (BSW) a pure example of the good that music and human empathy can bring into people’s lives when they operate together and authentically.”

institution


Previous Next