The gift of music leaves a lasting impression on those who receive it.
For the Troy City School District, the charity of one local organization played a large part in launching its new high school orchestra program.
“[Last] September we weren’t sure what we were going to do because we didn’t think we had enough instruments for all of the students in grades 3 through 9,” said Kristen Obermayer, of the school district’s orchestra program. “Thankfully, there were string instruments donated through Vanguard. The students were above and beyond excited.”
Vanguard was originally founded in July 1963 as a fundraiser for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and it immediately began helping with publicity, mailing, advertising sales, and ushering. They opened their homes to visiting artists and provided transportation for them. At the request of ASO’s Conductor Edgar Curtis, Vanguard turned rehearsals into youth concerts and helped during concerts at schools. A fund was started to give annual scholarships to orchestra members for further study. In 1972 Vanguard was incorporated.
Since that time Vanguard has concentrated efforts on family and children through a number of different programs, such as Tiny Tots and the Sunday Symphony for Family concerts.
For more than 20 years, the Tiny Tots concert series has performed in front of preschool and first grade audiences. The concerts reach approximately 1,500 children per year. These classical repertoire concerts take place in Albany and Saratoga, twice each morning during a week in May. Vanguard provides partial transportation fees for some needy schools to bring the children to the concert and provides financial support toward the concert venue rental.
The Sunday Symphony for Family Concerts introduces families to classical and symphonic music, while also assisting the audience by providing music-related educational activities before the concert and during the concert’s intermission for the attending children.
The Musical Instruments for Students launched with the aim of giving the gift of music to students at public schools in the Capital District. Working with the music programs in the local schools, Vanguard collects ”little used” musical instruments, repairs them as needed and donates them to the participating school programs. That task is placed on the shoulders of Delmar’s Jill Rifkin.
“[The instruments] are donated to schools with various needs throughout the Capital District,” said Rifkin. “And, music teachers in those schools then distribute them to kids whose parents can’t afford to purchase them. [Otherwise] those kids can’t be in their orchestra or bands and that’s heartbreaking.”
Rifkin describes herself as a longtime “proud audience member” of the orchestra, and has long known about the charitable program. A creative person by nature, Rifkin is a retired managing editor for a newspaper and is an aficionado of the arts, joined Vanguard just last year.
“Income inequality breaks my heart,” said Rifkin. “Music is tremendously important to kids. … First of all, it’s fun. Second, you’re less likely to drop out of school. You become more motivated. And, learning a difficult instrument has got to do wonders to your self-confidence. You’re contributing to the community, contributing to your school. Those are attributes I would think would carry out for the rest of your life. Not to mention a love for music. … It gives kids a purpose. “
Studies recently support that musical training not only improves self-confidence but aides students in the classroom. Yale tied music to strengthening language development, leading to increased social skills. The University of Toronto found children with music lessons saw a modest increase in IQ over those without music. And, the University of Kansas went as far to state elementary students enrolled in superior music programs were apt to score 20 percent higher in math and English, versus those with subpar programs. Despite these studies, Rifkin said, “School budgets are cut left and right, and what’s the first to go? Music and art.”
Now, more than a half century later, the Vanguard program continues to make an impact on local music programs desperate for help. For Obermayer, the children in her program can’t be more appreciative.
“They made numerous cards as a thank you because they were so grateful for the donations,” said Obermayer. “Now as the next school year approaches, and we add another grade level to the High School orchestra we are wondering what will happen as the need for instruments keeps increasing.”
To donate an instrument, contact Jill Rifkin at 439-1843.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.