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Staying in tune and out of trouble

Hear Sharon Litwin talk about Make Music NOLA on WWNO below, or click here.

You can hear the almost-together violin players practicing musical scales from out in the school hallway. You don’t have to know a thing about music to realize that, for sure, these are beginners. But after a few attempts, they get there, in tune, that is.

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Make Music NOLA students tune up their violins before practice.

“They” are the little kids at Arise Academy, an elementary charter school on St. Claude Avenue in the Upper 9th Ward. Four days a week after school, they come to a classroom to learn violin, viola, cello or upright bass, and they are very serious about it; pretty amazing, really, considering their ages.

The students belong to Make Music NOLA, a completely free after-school music experience, one of only two string programs in this brass and percussion town. It is part of the outgrowth of the post-Katrina Youth Orchestra of the Lower Ninth Ward. Created with significant financial help from Trinity Church Wall Street in New York, that youth orchestra was part of a community center based in All Soul’s Episcopal Church. Located in a former drug store on the corner of Caffin Street and St. Claude Avenue, All Souls was and is known lovingly in the neighborhood as Saint Walgreens.

Changing the name from Youth Orchestra to Make Music NOLA makes sense since the string program now has expanded to three different locations: Arise Academy, KIPP leadership Primary (2300 N. Galvez St.), and Central City’s Edgar P. Harney Elementary. Classes last from 3:30 to 6 p.m. for the now-more-than 50 students, each of whom receives help with homework, an evening meal and transportation for those who need it. Like so many charter schools in New Orleans these days, the student populations at any of these three locations come from neighborhoods across the city. For them, transportation is critical and may be the one thing that keeps them connected to the program.

Eleven-year-old Tony Lamartza plays a pint-sized cello every one of the four days a week that lessons take place at Arise Academy. One of eight children in his family and the only one to play an instrument, he has even learned how to read a little music. Now  he can play “The Saints Come Marchin’ In” or “I’ll Fly Away,” accompanied by a couple of other budding musicians plucking away on upright basses. Not only is Tony learning how to play an instrument he had never before heard of or even seen, but he likes how it makes him feel.

“It makes me feel good,” he says. “When I hit the right notes, it makes me feel excited.”

The other important thing the program does for Tony and his friends, he says, is that it keeps them “out of trouble.” Now he’s looking forward to a special Make Music NOLA family night, when he will be able to perform in a real music space. On Sunday, March 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Café Istanbul in the HealingCenter (2372 St. Claude Ave.), all three school string groups will get together for the first time. Dinner will be served, and Laura Patterson invites anyone who would like to play with them, hear them, or support them to come to this free event.

For more information about the March 23 Make Music Nola family night, email or call 516-425-2760.



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