When Trenton Makes A Big Mistake
Dan Aubrey’s piece about the aborted Roebling project in the May 1 issue of U.S. 1 is nothing short of brilliant. His handling of all the different players and his organization of the unfolding of the tragedy reads like a Shakespeare play.
As someone perennially hoping for a brighter future for the city, I found the story both spellbinding and disheartening. Reed Gusciora’s clear-eyed summary of the entire debacle, and Princetel’s Barry Zhang’s optimistic willingness to try again in the future did provide a welcome respite and a sense of hope.
Thanks to Aubrey and to U.S. 1 for this piece of thoroughly informative journalism.
Editor’s note: U.S. 1 was also disappointed with the turn of events in Trenton. In the October 10, 2018, issue of U.S. 1 editor Richard K. Rein wrote on How Trenton Won Amazon’s HQ2 Battle — not literally, of course, but figuratively by using the process to identify attributes and resources that would be of interest to high tech companies such as Princetel.
And in the January issue of our sister paper, the Trenton Downtowner, Rein wrote All Signs Point Toward Progress in Trenton and wondered what it might take to spark a Trenton turnaround. One possible trigger, he wrote, would be another business redeveloping a piece of the city’s old industrial base — exactly what almost happened with Princetel.
El Sistema in Trenton
Those who were fortunate enough to attend the April 27 concert at the War Memorial, featuring the Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, are likely still sharing the joy of that experience with their friends. Not only was the music exquisite, but Dudamel’s commitment to young people, and to the powerful role that music plays in binding together and uplifting a community, were palpable. The concert was free to the community, at conductor Dudamel’s insistence. And the best seats in the house were reserved for our children and families, as well as many who had come from other El Sistema-inspired programs in the region.
Front and center, which of course they are for us, and where Dudamel agrees they belong.
“El Sistema,” in the wake of Gustavo Dudamel’s residency, might now be a commonly-understood phrase in this part of the state. This is the deeply-respected system of youth orchestras, bands, and choirs that have proliferated in Venezuela since their founding in the 1970s by the visionary musician and humanitarian José Antonio Abreu. And especially since Mo. Abreu’s having received the 2009 TED Prize, and dedicated the proceeds to the development of El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States, they are thriving here as well. In El Sistema the intensive, ambitious pursuit of musical excellence is a platform for social development. And more so than preparing to compete for a conservatory spot, children in Sistema-inspired programs come to understand the orchestra as a “nucleo:” a safe space for hard-working fun, and a microcosm of positive society.
Trenton Music Makers, the local Sistema-inspired program, was launched in 2015, in a partnership with the Trenton Public Schools. This district, in contrast with many urban districts that have slashed their music programs, has maintained an iron-clad commitment to the arts. Trenton Music Makers picks up at the end of the school day, with intensive string instruction, daily orchestra rehearsal, and a six to eight-hour per week commitment from its students and teaching artists. Thanks to a partnership with the Capital Area YMCA, our students begin the program day after school with a hot meal together. Thanks to a generous community of instrument donors, and especially Russo Music and JE Banks String Instruments, we provide a high-quality instrument for each student grade 2 through 12. Our teaching artists are a diverse team of master string teachers, freelance musicians, young and dedicated college graduates, and excellent music teachers from the district teaching staff. With them our students have an unparalleled learning experience.
Sistema-inspired programs throughout the world have documented outcomes related to school attendance, improved neurological processing, social-emotional learning, executive function, and graduation rates. Our early evaluations give us reason to expect very big things for our kids as well. Our final concerts of the year will take place on Tuesday, June 11, at 5:30 p.m. at Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School for the Arts. Selected students will also play Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at Columbus Elementary School, as part of the Every Given Child Trenton Arts Festival, hosted by the Trenton Public Schools. More information is available at www.elsistemausa.org, and on Trenton Music Makers at www.trentonmusicmakers.org.
Executive Director, Trenton Music Makers