Place Music Calls Home
Music A Part of Everyday Education
Bogin, 9, says she enjoys her school because of the performances
like last December's Bach Festival, which all students were
involved in. The school Natasha attends, The
Special Music School of America (SMSA), stresses music
education of all types, including instruments and voice. Founded
in 1996 by pianist Vladimir Feltzman, the SMSA is based on
the Russian "special school system." In the former Soviet
Union, these special schools would comb the country for talented
children, and groom them for musical success. These special
schools continue to train young musicians across the former
Soviet Union to this day.
Rachmanov with his piano student George Kiladze, 10.
W. 67th St. in Manhattan, the SMSA offers a rich musical
education thanks to a blend of public and private funds. The
school is a collaboration between District 3 of the New York
City Board of Education and the Elaine
Kaufman Cultural Center, a private nonprofit arts institution.
The district pays for the academic portion of the program
and the Kaufman Center raises the funds, about $6,000 per
child, for the extensive music program. This funding from
the Kaufman Center makes possible free tuition.
Mchedlivshvili, who hails from Tbilisi,
Georgia (the country), teaches piano at SMSA. Both her
sons, George and Alexander Kiladze, are enrolled in the school.
This is unusual, as not all the students’ siblings can get
in unless they pass the entrance exams. In an average year,
300 children will apply for 15 places. But once accepted,
there are only 15 children in each class, and each student
receives two private music lessons per week.
Bogin is one of Mchedlivshvili’s 10 piano students and is
already playing "Waltz in A minor" by Frederic Chopin.
hallways at the school resonate with music. One kindergarten
classroom is practicing a song and in another class, George
Kiladze, 10, is having a private piano lesson with his piano
teacher Dmitry Rachmanov.
Lakirovich, the school's music director, hopes more schools
will follow the SMSA's example.
study and draw about composers at the Special Music School
school is unique, it is the only one of its kind in the U.S.A.,"
he says. Lakirovich, who is originally from Baku,
Azerbaijan, says the SMSA program requires total dedication
on the children’s and parents’ behalf.
The 90 children at SMSA are from diverse cultural and ethnic
backgrounds, and between them speak more than 25 languages.
They come from every borough of New York except Staten Island.
Children at the school love music and feel that it is
an essential part of their lives. They practice the piano
or violin up to two hours a day after school.
not every child who is musical can get into the SMSA. There
is a rigorous three-step acceptance process that assesses
musical talent. Four-to five year olds are tested for rhythm
and the way they respond to music with clapping and different
movements. Older children may apply if a place becomes available.
students enter in kindergarten and stay until the fifth grade.
Next year there will be a middle school for grades six through
further up on the East Side, Dr. Walter Turnbull, 31 years
ago, wanted to start a choir for young black boys in his neighborhood
of Harlem. Now, one of the most famous children’s choirs in
the entire world, the Boys
Choir of Harlem on Madison
Avenue at East 127th Street, is also a full
school affiliated with the New York Board of Education for
grades 4-12. According to Dr. Horace Turnbull (Walter’s brother
who is also an administrator at the school), 1,500 to 2,000
students each apply year for 100 to 150 slots.
apply, students must have good grades and be able to reproduce
a pitch with their voice. In three information sessions with
parents before the student is admitted, the school explains
the rigors of the program.
they learn what kind of commitment they would be getting involved
with, many of those who apply become no longer interested,"
completing a normal school day at 2:30 p.m., students then
must stay for rehearsals that can last until 6:30-7 p.m. In
addition, classes are year-round, traveling for concerts around
the country is constant, and students must attend an intensive
summer music institute.
rewards of this work do pay off at graduation time, according
to Horace, who says 98 percent of the senior class goes on
to this success, many cities across the nation are following
the Harlem choir model. Chicago plans to start their version
and scholarship committees recognize and reward our students
because they know that they are extremely dedicated and have
developed a craft," says Horace.
"Stop! What are you doing? Waiting for a bus?"