With A Little Help, Violin Students Get To Carnegie Hall

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Nan Melville/Getty Images Nathan Schram instructs students in the classroom.


We first met Nathan Schram, a 24-year-old viola player, last fall. He's a member of the Academy, a training program for young musicians, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School. Half of the time, the Academy fellows perform classical music on the highest level in concert venues throughout New York City, and half of the time they teach in public schools.

Here's reporter Jeff Lunden now as he continues with Nathan Schram's story

JEFF LUNDEN: Last October, Nathan Schram was giddy with anticipation. He was only a year out of Indiana University and he had just joined a prestigious program, which was designed to help classical musicians like himself take on the challenges of building a 21st century career.

The Academy's philosophy is that it isn't enough to be an excellent musician; success depends on also being an educator and ambassador for classical music. So, there he was at P.S. 75, an elementary school in the immigrant and working class neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn, describing how he felt when he got the invitation to join the Academy.

Mr. NATHAN SCHRAM: I was thrilled. It sounded great. It sounded like it was going to help me communicate better with audiences. I was going to find a newer audience. I was going to help people that might otherwise not be able to experience this music and maybe I could learn something from them, too. And now I'm here. Day one.

LUNDEN: Many, many days have passed. In late May, Nathan Schram was coming towards the end of the academic year at P.S. 75.

Mr. SCHRAM: Well, the novelty of me coming here has worn off a little bit. I'm not the special character I was; I'm kind of the other guy. But it's great. I mean they - it's nice coming in here and building a relationship; seeing the kids that may be struggling one week all of a sudden are really doing incredibly well the next week.

LUNDEN: Schram and P.S. 75's dedicated violin teacher, Zelman Bokser, were helping students in the fourth and fifth grade classes prepare for the Link-Up program, where the kids would appear onstage at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. SCHRAM: So, they're going to be playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, an arrangement, a little bit of a simplified version of it. But they're going to be doing "Ode to Joy" with Orchestra of St. Luke's.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to Joy")

LUNDEN: Teacher Zelman Bokser says the kids had to learn seven new pieces of music to perform at Carnegie in just five weeks.

Mr. ZELMAN BOKSER (Music Teacher, P.S. 75): It's a little bit of a scramble. It's all, none of it, for this particular group, none of it is a stretch, technically. It's all less difficult than the things we had done before. But learning so much of it in such a short time, that's a big scramble. And they have to know it from memory.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to Joy")

LUNDEN: The fourth grade class couldn't wait to get to Carnegie Hall.

Ms. PETAL JADEO (Student, P.S. 75): My name is Petal Jadeo and I was really surprised, because we never, ever, ever been to play to Carnegie Hall in our lives. But when we hear about the news, like, we were excited and surprised and were unexpected.

LUNDEN: And are you practicing, practicing, practicing?

KIDS: Yes.

LUNDEN: And one week later, there they were. The P.S. 75 kids, decked out in new T-shirts, shared the stage with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, and some other school kids, while Carnegie Hall's vast auditorium was filled with students from all over the New York area, most of them carrying recorders.

The program was called The Orchestra Sings, and when the time came, the kids played their hearts out.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to Joy")

CHOIR: (Singing) Joyful, joyful, (unintelligible)...

LUNDEN: Afterwards, the P.S. 75 students went to Central Park to eat some lunch and let off some steam.

Ms. LIZBETH NUNEZ (Student, P.S. 75): Hi, my name is Lizbeth Nunez and I felt very excited. But when I was looking at the people, I was like, whoa - more than a thousand or one thousand five hundred people were there. I was like...and I looked at the top, it was, like, huge. I was like, whoa. And I was nervous, too, at the same time, 'cause I'd never been to Carnegie Hall, playing onstage.

LUNDEN: And a week later, sitting in a practice room at Juilliard, Nathan Schram reflected on his year in the Academy on all his new friends and colleagues and incredible performance opportunities, but also on his experiences at P.S. 75.

Mr. SCHRAM: I've never been an educator before in my life. This has been a real adventure working with the kids. I just had my last teaching day today and it was certainly bittersweet. It was definitely, hands down, the hardest part of the program.

LUNDEN: Throughout his fellowship year, Schram's performed in a lot of places with some of the biggest names in classical music, but, unlike his students, not onstage in the main auditorium in Carnegie Hall.

Mr. SCHRAM: They've trumped me. They take the cake. They've performed in the biggest, greatest, most famous hall in the world. I'm still working on it.

LUNDEN: And he'll keep working on it next year, when he completes the second year of his fellowship with the Academy and his work at P.S. 75.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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