PTA raises thousands to keep music program alive
by Andrew Shilling
Mar 27, 2014 | 821 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Little Orchestra Society musicians perform music written by P.S. 122 students.
Little Orchestra Society musicians perform music written by P.S. 122 students.
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Joanne Bernstein Cohen, executive director for the Little Orchestra Society, and Councilman Costa Constantinides.
Joanne Bernstein Cohen, executive director for the Little Orchestra Society, and Councilman Costa Constantinides.
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Students show their parents how to warm up before a performance.
Students show their parents how to warm up before a performance.
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Students from kindergarten through third grade at P.S. 122 in Astoria composed and performed their own classical and interpretive pieces for a classroom full of parents and teachers last week.

Parents arrived in waves as each grade presented a year’s worth of learning and writing with the Little Orchestra Society’s Musical Connections, a hands-on music education program developed to get young kids involved in classical music before many schools are able to begin offering the curriculum in fourth grade.

Today there are five schools participating in the city, and Joanne Bernstein Cohen, executive director for the Little Orchestra Society, said she expects the program will expand to more schools as they also plan to offer music classes in pre-kindergarten.

“This is all about giving kids from a very early age the opportunity to make musical choices themselves, to be creative, to take risks, and to work collaboratively,” she said. “Those are the hugely important learning skills that I think everybody in the 21st Century needs to have.”

Cohen added that the program is not intended to replace the already existing music programs, but instead they are there to find ways of working with music teachers to provide additional coursework.

“Nobody is doing music composition with the kids, so what we do is additive to what the school’s music teachers are doing,” she said. “We’re advocates of working together to give the kids much more.”

While the program is funded by the City Council, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the state Council of the Arts, the P.S. 122 PTA raised $12,000 last year to bring the program to the school a seventh consecutive year.

PTA co-president Claudia Lieto-McKenna said volunteers spend countless hours each week to raise thousands of dollars every year for other programs as well, like ballroom dancing and art supplemental programming with the Noguchi Museum.

“We also have membership contributions from families, who donate anything from $5 to hundreds of dollars,” Lieto-McKenna said.

With nearly 1,400 students in the school, she said fundraising efforts on the part of the PTA has become vital in a cash-strapped education system.

With a fourth grader currently enrolled in the school, Lieto-McKenna attests to the benefits of getting young children involved in music.

“They’re so excited when they come into the classroom,” she said. “Although parents don’t see what’s going on in the classroom, since I volunteer, I can see them from when they start to the outcome. It’s amazing.”

Councilman Costa Constantinides, a former student of P.S. 122, attended the performance last week with Cohen to see just how far their students have come in the last school year.

“I think these are good programs that we are looking forward to supporting during my tenure,” Constantinides said. “Having a strong art space and making sure these kids are well rounded is such an important thing for us to do.”

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