Arts Leadership Spotlight: Visit with the Andover-Lawrence String Program

From the Top visits the Andover-Lawrence String Program at Phillips Academy

Kids teaching other kids—what could be more powerful?

That’s exactly what happens every Wednesday afternoon at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, when elementary and middle school students from the Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund Charter School and the Leonard School in Lawrence, MA arrive for free instrumental lessons, taught by Phillips Academy students through the Andover-Lawrence String Program.

This inspiring example of arts leadership has been on our radar for quite some time—several From the Top alumni have been a part of this program over the years. So when Bobby Chen, an 18-year-old cellist and senior at Phillips Academy, spoke passionately about his involvement as a student leader in the program on our Boston taping in February, we seized the opportunity to collaborate!

On April 7, From the Top musicians traveled to Andover to share their music and experiences with the younger students. Joining Bobby were Gergana Haralampieva, a 16-year-old violinist currently attending the Walnut Hill School and Phuong Nghi Pham, a 14-year-old pianist from Dorchester, MA. The performance was hosted by another From the Top alum and Andover-Lawrence Program leader, cellist Rainer Crossett. Rainer has participated in many From the Top outreach events as a performer and noted, “It was a joy taking on more of a leadership role in this event.” We couldn’t agree more!

For an hour, the students were treated to diverse musical selections from all three artists and the students, in turn, kept the performers (and Rainer!) on their toes with lots of great questions!  Rainer later noted, “The highlight of the event for me was working with Phuong Nghi on her second selection, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. I decided to show the two contrasting themes of the piece separately to the students, and to try to get them to feel the different emotions suggested in each theme.” It was a great approach. After Phuong Nghi played the agitated main theme, hands shot up in the air with excitement when Rainer asked the students to share the different images and emotions the music had inspired in them.

We asked the performers to tell us about their experiences:

Bobby Chen: “I really enjoyed seeing my students learn from the perspective of a performer instead of my usual role as the teacher. Through our teaching we try to inspire an interest and passion in classical music in our younger friends, and it was great to see them respond with such enthusiasm!”

Phuong Nghi Pham: “Last week’s performance was the first time I have played for an audience younger than me. It was a completely different atmosphere—all of us were simply sharing our experiences with the kids through several musical pieces and answering their thoughtful questions. Instead of just focusing on playing the pieces like in any recital, the kids themselves allowed me to open up. It was very fun and satisfying to see their reactions to the music that we played! I had no idea that the simple things we did could excite and inspire them so much this way! This experience really shows how important it is for kids to be exposed to music and to learn how it can make a difference in their lives.”

Gergana Haralampieva: “The kids sat with their shining eyes taking in all the music we played for them. A very memorable part of the performance was when the kids jumped up in their seats with surprise at Phuong Nghi’s loud chords, showing just how into the music they were! I also loved the students’ questions, especially (when the little boy) asked me if I have ever inspired someone (with my music). That question made me realize for the first time just how important we are in the world, to other people, and in changing a child or a person’s life through our music making!”

The Andover-Lawrence String Program is one of From the Top’s Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Award recipients. Phillips Academy student Jacob Shack will be contributing an article to this blog about his experience volunteering with this program and why he was moved to apply for the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Award.