In Queens, Child Musicians Start With Cardboard Violins

When the Corona Youth Music Project began, the program for low-income children in Queens couldn’t afford orchestra instruments, so children made violins out of cardboard and paper. Even now that the program has real instruments, it still starts the children out on cardboard instruments, El Diario La Prensa reported. The story is translated from Spanish below.

Abril, Lesly, Nicole, Angela, and Mateo wait anxiously for the end of the day at their elementary school. With their instruments in hand, they run to be on time for their music class.

As they play, the deafening roar of the elevated subway along Roosevelt Avenue fades as if by magic; melodies waft out of the headquarters of Immigrant Movement International.

This image might seem like a movie, but it’s a reality thanks to the Corona Youth Music Project, also known as Núcleo Corona, an initiative that promotes the social inclusion of low-income youth through music.

Alvaro F. Rodas, the founder and director, started the project after learning about the National System of Youth Orchestras of Venezuela. Before moving to New York, Rodas had started a similar program in his native Guatemala.

“Music has the power to build a united community with a noble and educational goal,” said Rodas.

In the beginning, lacking genuine instruments, the children and their parents made violins out of cardboard and paper to learn how to handle them. When they received their first donation of instruments, the transition to learning how to play them happened quickly. The paper orchestra is now part of the enrollment process for studying an actual instrument.

The program runs on donations, the classes are free, and the instructors are professional musicians. Unlike the traditional system of music education, the classes at CYMP are taught in groups, and students start performing publicly from the very beginning.

“That’s how they gain skills and confidence,” explained Rodas.

Corona Youth Music Project (Photo via EDLP)

For Rosa Coello, of Ecuadorian descent and the mother of Mateo, a 4-year-old violinist, “passion and hope” are the words that describe the program. “Besides training the children to be musicians, Núcleo Corona has planted seeds of hope for many of them, including my son,” she said.

Alex Ortiz, who is 8 years old and studies the cello, needs his father’s help to carry his instrument, which is almost as big as he is. The cello has become his best friend.

“When I’m at home, I play it and I don’t feel alone,” said Alex, who dreams of becoming the first cellist in an orchestra.

But that dream needs funding. Rodas is worried about economic difficulties, but his students’ enthusiasm inspires him to keep moving forward.

“It’s a matter of time,” he said. “The goal is to create the largest youth orchestra of Corona in 15 years, in addition to small ensembles.”

Given the serious overcrowding in Corona’s classrooms and budget cuts to arts programs in most public schools in this part of the city, projects like CYMP provide a breath of hope.

“Recognition encourages them to keep going,” Rodas said. “A child that is motivated to reach his maximum potential can see higher.”

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