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Musical magic in Flatbush

It’s only been a short time, but children who first picked up musical instruments a little over two years ago are making beautiful music together, thanks to an innovative program that has brought music education into their Flatbush school.

Approximately 40 third through fifth grade students at PS 152 at Glenwood Road and E. 23rd Street are involved in the Harmony program, modeled by Executive Director Anne Fitzgibbon after “El Sistema,” Venezuela’s national system of youth orchestras.

The students — who are being taught by six students and alumni of Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music — performed together as an orchestra at Brooklyn College’s Gershwin Hall earlier this month.

The purpose of Harmony, said Fitzgibbon, is to “expand access to instrumental music among under-served communities.”

An ear for music isn’t required, Fitzgibbon stressed. Rather, she said, she looks for an interest in music in students who apply, and a sense of commitment from their parents, essential if the students are to thrive in the intensive five-day-a-week, after-school program.

The commitment is certainly there. Over the program’s two-plus years at PS 152, attendance has been 95 percent at daily lessons, Fitzgibbon said.

The key, stressed Fitzgibbon, is to make learning to play an instrument enjoyable.

“If children will play a video game after school because it’s fun, they will want to learn music if you make it fun, and they do,” she said.

It would be nice if the program yielded a Yo Yo Ma or an Itzhak Perlman, but that’s not its purpose, she added.

“The goal is not necessarily to develop professional musicians but to develop the skills kids are going to use in the other areas of their lives,” Fitzgibbon said. “First and foremost, it’s about giving them life skills. Music is a really fun vehicle for doing that.”

Harmony has a formal relationship with CUNY, which provides teachers, and three sites in New York City: PS 152, a public school in Harlem and a Bronx community center.

The instruments the children are learning to play are the violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and percussion.

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