Donation Retunes Long Island Students’ Defunct String Program

Copiague elementary school students perform The D’Addario and Harmony Program Spring Recital on June 8 at Susan E. Wiley Elementary School.

By Ana Borruto

After warming up their cellos, violins and violas, 20 young musicians raised their bows and erupted in a symphony, filling a Copiague elementary school gymnasium with the music of Mozart and Bach.

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Third-grade symphony concerts aren’t uncommon at schools across Long Island. But the Copiague Public School District had lacked a strings program for 30 years, so this one wouldn’t have been possible without a charitable donation two years ago. The help came from the D’Addario Foundation, the nonprofit arm of D’Addario & Co., the century-old, world’s largest guitar string manufacturer based in Farmingdale.

“By having music in our education system, having it be something accessible to kids on a regular basis, we can positively increase engagement in schools,” said Suzanne D’Addario, executive director of the foundation. “Kids want to come to school when they know that they have music.”

Since 1981, the foundation has supported about 700 similar programs in 47 states and 54 countries. They also support 30 programs in New York City and nine on LI, including those at the Henry Viscardi School in Searingtown and Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights. The nonprofit’s goal is to use music for social change and give educational opportunities to children in high-risk areas.

One of the charities that the foundation supports is the Harmony Program, a nonprofit in NYC dedicated to providing after-school music education for students in communities with limited access to them. The Copiague student symphony showcased the fruits of a joint donation by the Harmony Program and the D’Addario Foundation.

The D’Addario and Harmony Program Spring Recital on June 8 at Susan E. Wiley Elementary School featured young student musicians from both Deauville Gardens East and Deauville Gardens West Elementary Schools. The nonprofits’ donation supplied the students with instruments of their choice and music lessons two hours a day, three days a week, as well as transportation from the school to D’Addario’s headquarters, where the lessons were held.

“Sadly, music is not accessible to children particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods,” D’Addario said. “Music has been cut from school programs. It’s an expensive thing to pursue on your own, so that access has been eliminated. What we seek through our foundation is to bring access back.”

D’Addario said a majority of the company’s 900 employees have children enrolled in the Copiague Public School District, which was one reason they wanted to help the school.

“This is a constituency of people where 70 percent of the kids that attend the school qualify for free or reduced lunch, so there is a pretty high level of need,” D’Addario said.

Jessica Zweig, program manager for Harmony Program, said at the recital that she had seen a significant improvement since the students’ previous recital in December.

“I see this amazing progression in not only their musical abilities, but just their confidence level and the way they present themselves,” Zweig said. “They’re listening. They’re playing with the people next to them. They’re following their conductor. Every single concert, the quality improves.”

Geoffrey Stone, a cello teacher who’s been involved with the Harmony Program since February 2013, said there are several students who have been in the program since its beginning, and he has noticed improvements in their behavior and development.

“I’d like to think that what we’re doing with them is helping to develop some of their personalities a little bit,” Stone said. “What you see from music is that it does give them a set of skills, including some social skills, some personal confidence, and responsibility.”

Students who participated in the recital received participation awards, while some earned special recognition. Jennifer Calderone, a cello student, won a summer scholarship from the Usdan Summer Music Camp. Zweig said Calderone is just one student who has expressed an interest in continuing music education in the future.

“She is very invested and has certainly spoken of cello as her outlet for expressing herself,” Zweig said. “It’s what she does when she’s bored at home.”

As someone who started her music education at a young age, Zweig said it’s rewarding to give to another student and see their progress.

“It’s an honor to serve these students,” Zweig said. “They give me as much as I give them. I believe everyone should be able to have this opportunity.”