A Newton-based nonprofit arts school. A Boston program that provides classical music to young musicians who identify with historically underrepresented groups. And a composer and violinist whose work combines classical music with jazz, hip-hop and rock.
These three entities came together on Sunday, Feb. 11, for a performance and community conversation about diversity and classical music at The Strand Theatre in Dorchester.
“I am delighted to dream, collaborate and perform with Suzuki School of Newton and Project STEP,” said Daniel Bernard Roumain, a Haitian-American composer who has worked with J’Nai Bridges and Lady Gaga, in a statement ahead of the event. “As we co-design and frame a program of music, words and ideas, I am reminded that the arts bring us all together on a concert stage of equity, where all voices can and should be heard.”
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Students from the Suzuki School and Project STEP in grades K-12 were interviewed during a rehearsal the previous weekend.
Maya Moghimi, a 7-year-old violinist, has been at the Suzuki School for three years. She said she enjoyed being part of a “small orchestra.”
“We didn’t really play an actual song,” she said. “We did some improvising.”
The violin, she said, “is a very fun instrument, and after you learn it, you can do so many things with it.”
She was impressed with Bernard Roumain, who goes by “DBR,” pretending the violin was a ukulele, banjo, drum, guitar and electric guitar.
“He was pretty funny,” Maya said. “I liked him a lot. He can play 30 different instruments.”
‘Unique and special’ collaboration
Sachiko Isihara, director of the Suzuki School of Newton, called the collaboration “special and unique.”
“Daniel is a very special musician and we wanted to bring music of different cultures together,” Isihara said. “It’s great to partner with another organization like Project STEP.”
The Suzuki School of Newton is a community arts nonprofit organization with two main components: a Suzuki music program, and a full-day integrated arts preschool. Its mission is to instill a love and respect for music and learning in students of all ages through instrument instruction.
Any time kids get to be around other people who like what they like, it’s inspiring.
Ian Saunders, director of Project STEP, called the collaboration “a great opportunity to work with an incredible organization in Newton.”
“Any time kids get to be around other people who like what they like, it’s inspiring,” he said. “At STEP, they know each other. So to go out and meet someone else who likes what they like really means a lot. And having the chance to work with DBR was a no-brainer.”
Project STEP is an award-winning music program that offers classical music education for young students of color in Boston and surrounding areas. Since launching more than 40 years ago, 2,000 students have been introduced to music through its programs. Graduates have gone on to become orchestra members, founders of other programs modeled on Project STEP, music teachers and soloists, as well as financial advisers, doctors and architects.
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Students involved in the collaboration come from various musical backgrounds, skill, and experience.
“They run the gamut,” Saunders said. “There are people who just started with their music, and people who have been in the program all 12 years. That’s one of the things that makes DBR so special. It takes a special artist to be able to engage people from all music levels towards one goal.”
Young musicians find that when working with DBR, ‘anything can happen’
Working with DBR was somewhat scary because anything is possible, Saunders said.
“It is a true canvas,” he said. “In that way, it’s inviting. It’s perfect for this sort of project. The journey is just as important as the concert with him. You’ll be changed just by going along for the ride with him.”
Gabriel Vignon-Villani, an 11th grade violinist and fiddler from Project STEP, found the program “very cool.”
“You meet a lot of people by playing a lot,” he said. “There are so many opportunities.”
Vignon-Villani found working with DBR “quite interesting.”
“I’m more trained in classical music,” Vignon-Villani said. “At some point, he was doing impromptu duets. It was very impressive. It’s a lot of moving around on the stage, and a lot of working on stage presence.”
Both Isihara and Saunders predicted the program would be a fantastic experience for students.
“I really hope the kids take this opportunity to really listen and get to know each other,” Isihara said. “We want to hear people’s stories and where they’re coming from.”
Saunders hoped the children would “reflect on their experience.”
“I want them to leave with a sense of seeing themselves reflected in the whole community,” he said. “I hope they learn from each other and from DBR. It’s something they can take with them going forward.”