Councilwoman gets funds for music program

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The program, called Music Masters, was started four years ago as a way for School District 28 students to learn how to play musical instruments without having to pay for private lessons. Children were loaned an instrument of their choice that they took home to practice, and a team of music professionals instructed them on Saturdays for 3-1/2 hours in both small group lessons and as part of a band.

"An education is more than just reading and writing - music and the arts are critical parts of a balanced curriculum," said Katz, a musician herself whose father founded the Queens Symphony Orchestra and whose mother founded the Queens Council on the Arts. "The children in Music Masters will be affected by this experience for the rest of their lives."

Before it was canceled last June, the Music Masters program had about 65 kids - two from each of the approximately 32 schools in SD 28, which encompasses Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens.

The restored Music Masters program, expected to be back on track within a few weeks, will be funded through June with the money secured by Katz.

The Department of Education did not return calls to ask how the program would be funded after June.

Ida Messana, a doctor from Forest Hills whose 12-year-old daughter learned to play the flute from scratch after she joined Music Masters three years ago, said the program is special because it is the only free music course in the borough that is open to kids who do not already know how to play an instrument.

"The wonder of the program is it was opened up to kids who didn't have any experience," Messana said. "It was the job of the music teacher or (another school official) to choose two children from the school who had talent and an interest, but not necessarily experience."

The restored program will accept kids who were perviously in the program as a first priority, followed by kids who were on the waiting list and then new kids.

"They're little, tiny tots. They're so cute, and they learn how to play. They learn music," said Bob Grillo, a professional guitar player who was the conductor for the Music Masters band before the program folded. "I'm delighted for the children that this program is going to be restored."

Now that the Department of Education has rearranged school districts into larger regions, Messana hopes the Music Masters program will be expanded to include the entire Region 3, which encompasses 144 schools.

After the Music Masters program folded, Messana's daughter, Johanna Sanders, joined the city-wide Salute to Music band along with about 25 percent of her former Music Masters band mates, who were encouraged to try out for the band.

Unlike Music Masters, Salute to Music requires that kids play at a certain level before joining.

"It's a much more advanced band. They're going to be performing in Carnegie Hall this year," Messana said. "Music Masters could be like a junior league for the Salute to Music program."

Andrew Walters, 11, a clarinet player who joined Salute to Music after the Music Masters program was canceled, said he will be going back to Music Masters in the fall because he likes the program better, and rehearsals for the band are closer to his home.

"With the Salute to Music program we're only going to have one concert, at Carnegie Hall," said Andrew, who attends PS 99 in Kew Gardens, where members of Music Masters used to meet for rehearsal. "With Music Masters, we get to play more."

The Music Masters band had performed on the deck of the USS Intrepid, the Queens Museum of Art and during Memorial Day parades in the city, in addition to holding concerts for parents at borough schools.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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