Published On: Tue, Dec 12th, 2017

Empire State Youth Orchestra’s CHIME (Creating Harmony, Inspiring Musical Excellence) Program Continues to Expand, Providing Young Musicians in the Schenectady Schools an Equal Opportunity to Develop Skills and Break Through Barriers

The Empire State Youth Orchestra’s (ESYO) CHIME (Creating Harmony, Inspiring Musical Excellence) program, which currently provides young musicians in the Schenectady City School District an equal opportunity to develop their skills and break down barriers, has expanded considerably since its inception two years ago. The program began at Yates elementary school and served 30 students who played string instruments. Last year CHIME doubled its numbers to include wind, brass and percussion choices for students. This year, the program doubled once again adding two additional program sites and serving middle school students, too. The expansion was made possible because of the generous support of the Schenectady Foundation, devoted private contributors, partnerships with Proctors and John Keal Music Co., and the efforts of the Schenectady City School District. The school district has worked hand-in-hand with ESYO to make the vision a reality.

CHIME is expected to further expand over the next few years to include schools in Troy and Albany.

“I am convinced that engaging children in music, particularly instrumental music, as early as possible sets them on the right course in life because of the tremendous amount of focus, discipline, determination and hard work it requires to learn an instrument. Music is a language, therefore, the earlier a child starts to learn the more fluent he/she will be. However, there are many children without such an opportunity to learn music. Through CHIME, ESYO has embraced a mission to increase access to instrumental music education to younger elementary children in our community who may have limited resources and support,” said ESYO Music Director Helen Cha-Pyo.

ESYO is one of the only youth orchestras in the nation with a program of this kind, providing students in a city school district with both intensive music instruction five days per week and an opportunity to potentially participate in one or more of the organizations 10 performing ensembles. CHIME is offered at Yates Elementary School (1st – 3rd grade strings), Van Corlaer Elementary School (1st – 3rd grade brass, wind, percussion). The full symphonic orchestra (4th – 8th grade) rehearses in a new space in Proctors known as the Adeline Graham Theatrical Technical Training and Innovation Center (Addy).

CHIME was developed out of the vision of Music Director Helen Cha-Pyo and Executive Director Becky Calos. “When Helen Cha-Pyo expressed a wish ‘to place a musical instrument in every child’s hand,’ I thought we need to make that happen. Helen and I worked together for the next year to find out as much as we could about how community-based music programs operate. We have reaped rewards more quickly than I would ever have thought possible, in terms of how successful the program has been. Most importantly, we have found that helping children strive for musical excellence is a constant—no matter whether we are in the CHIME classroom or in a Youth Orchestra rehearsal, the goal is the same. The vision is to support children in that pursuit no matter their economic status, and to create ensembles that are truly reflective of their communities,” said Calos.

Christina Peek, a parent of an eight-year-old child in the CHIME Program is glad her daughter is participating. Alahna Brown practices weekdays from 2:15pm to 5:00pm and has improved tremendously. “For kids to practice that long is incredible. To hear what they sound like is absolutely amazing. In terms of academic success it keeps them focused,” said Peek.

Brown plays the violin. “I love getting to play my instrument. It’s amazing how hard we have to work. We work hard. When I started, the violin was chosen for me. I actually wanted to play cello but now I have a really strong connection to the violin. I also play other instruments. I love music,” said Brown.

Calos hired an exceptional musician and music educator to help create and implement CHIME. John Connolly moved from England to Schenectady, NY. “After being exposed to the power of El Sistema in Venezuela following a tour of the country in 2012 and gaining experience as a teacher in a Sistema-inspired program through my work with In Harmony Sistema England and the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra, I was driven to take a leadership role and design a program that, for me, helped students realize their full potential. To be able to design a program from its inception was a fantastic opportunity for me, so much so, that I moved across an ocean to take it on,” said Connolly. Connolly was a trombone player with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He also frequently performed with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. He has enjoyed seeing the growth children in CHIME have made over the last few years. “The progress our students have made musically is remarkable and it is a pleasure to see them grow each day. I am excited to see where this growth will take them and the opportunities they will embrace as a result of the progress they have made in CHIME,” said Connolly.

The future for CHIME looks bright. “I believe CHIME will grow it terms of the number of students it serves as well as in its commitment to excellence. In three years, we went from one site to three and we now look to reach beyond Schenectady to Troy and Albany. I hope we can inspire great teaching artists to join the team of music educators so that the low teacher-student ratio continues. This is crucial in achieving excellence,” said Cha-Pyo.

Calos is encouraged by how the community has embraced CHIME. “The best way to continue to support CHIME is to attend concerts and see the kids in action. Celebrating their achievement by being there is the best gift you can give them — and us,” she said.

Information about ESYO’s program and concerts can be found at esyo.org.

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