Welcome, Carol!

Here is a message from Carol, Sumner Quartet violinist and newest violin teacher at the Chittick!


Carol and her Tuesday chamber music class at the Chittick School

The Sumner Quartet was formed in the fall of last year, which was the final year of my master’s degree at Boston Conservatory.  Although I was with the quartet from the beginning, due to my school schedule I did not begin teaching with musiConnects until this year.  Two things I really like about being a musician are playing chamber music and teaching, so I am very excited to be a part of musiConnects.

When playing in a chamber ensemble, the more you get to know each other as people and players the more easily you can make music together.  I appreciate the fact that rehearsing regularly as an ensemble allows us to work towards making music in a refined and unified way.  This is particularly important  in small chamber groups as they have no conductor, so listening to each other and reading visual cues becomes very important.  While this is partly just learning to be a good chamber musician, the more you play with someone, the more easily you can anticipate musical choices or read each others body language, which makes it possible to create music in the moment as an ensemble.  While I have played in many chamber ensembles, this is the longest and most consistently that I have worked with a quartet. I am grateful for the positive and respectful atmosphere of our rehearsals because I think it allows our ensemble to grow and develop in a healthy way.  We work hard and accomplish good work, but we also have plenty of laughs!

I love the fact that not only do the students in the musiConnects program play chamber music, they are also encouraged to improvise and compose!  Playing chamber music can be a great way to learn to work with others in a thoughtful and productive way.  Learning to listen to each other, express yourself, and to find a compromise when everyone does not agree are important skills not only for music but also for daily life.  Playing in a small chamber ensemble is an opportunity that is often not available in school music programs, but that I think is a very valuable experience to have. Each voice is important and the music would not be the same if one person dropped out.

Having an outlet to express oneself that is not in words is an experience that I think should be available to everyone, and creating music with others can be a way to connect in a very unique way. I have particularly enjoyed hearing the creative ideas the students bring to class, for example the rhythmic and musical patterns they come up with for the “rhythm machine,” and  having a student come to her lesson and show me a short piece that she wrote during the week for fun.

Including improvisation and composition in classical music programs is surprisingly uncommon.  As a student I wish that I had been encouraged to improvise more.   Opening up that kind of creative outlet alongside learning to read music and playing music by “famous” composers is a great idea.  I have very much enjoyed meeting and getting to know the students at the Chittick.  The fact that the students have a music appreciation class and work in ensembles in addition to their individual studies forms a nice community and a strong foundation for building musical knowledge and developing a love of music.

I feel very lucky to be a part of the Sumner Quartet and musiConnects community!


A New Rhythm at the Chittick

-Marji Gere, Education Director

Akeem and Jovanny smiling

Chittick 4th graders rehearse together

We’re heading toward our fifth week of teaching at the Chittick, and I’m happy to report that everything is going very well. Attendance rate is at a record high. We added eight brand new 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, three new teachers, and have doubled the hours of weekly programming per student. How? Through creative use of our current resources. Why? Because of the energy, commitment, and developing needs of our students. Some have been with us since the very beginning, and had outgrown our previous programming, and we simply could not ignore the excitement and longing of students who have been on our waiting list! Here’s what we’ve done:

Moving to After-School

After two years of wrestling with the complicated and crowded school day schedule, we moved 3rd -5th grade private lessons to after school, so now all regular programming – chamber music, lessons, large group enrichment classes, and our new orchestra (more on this later!) – happens between 2:15 and 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So far, this move away from the school day seems like a major improvement. We can teach half-hour-long private lessons in the spacious, quiet classrooms instead of the overheated, noisy hallways. We no longer have to plan around standardized testing schedules and field trips and all the other wonderful surprises that come with working as an arts partner in a public school. Not to worry: we have not entirely removed our weekly string serenades from the school culture; our 2nd grade classes still happen before the bell rings.


A 4th grade violist in her weekly private lesson

Claiming space

For those of you who visited or worked with us at the Chittick School in past years, you may remember our Goldilocks scenario: we were either squashing many bodies and instruments into a small computer lab, or fighting chaos in the cacophonous gymnasium during our large group work. In a lucky twist of fate, we inherited a space that is JUST RIGHT for our after-school group work: two flexible and large (but not cavernous and chaos-inspiring!) spaces: the cafeteria and an adjacent classroom.  We use these rooms for our Musical Exploration class (a music theory/composition/improvisation class that Betsy Hinkle and I are co-teaching—more on that in a bit) and two other programming necessities: snack and homework time.

Chittick Boys

A violist, two cellists, and a violinist in the Chittick Cafeteria

Harnessing volunteer power

Speaking of homework: moving private lessons to after school and extending our twice-weekly programming to the late 6 o’clock hour necessitated a study hall and a crew of homework help volunteers. I am happy to report that a small but mighty crew of parents have stepped up to the plate, and have done so with a great deal of skill and finesse. These parent volunteers are not babysitting! They are playing an active role in the children’s studies. One mother even brought in a library of chapter books and a collection of educational puzzles to enrich the kids’ homework activities. One very important message in support of these amazing parents: we still have a need for homework helpers; many parents are working during the hours of our programming and are unable to join in. Our current volunteers could use some back-up. If you are interested in joining the homework help team, please contact us and we’ll discuss!

Refreshing Musical Activities

Enough about structure! Let’s move on to an update about program content.

Musical Exploration is a heartier portion of what we used to call “Music Circle”. We still do rhythm machines and other large-group community-building and improvisation activities during this time (Betsy’s leading that portion of the class right now). But we’re also dedicating more time to hands-on exploration of formal, abstract musical concepts. This semester, our explorations are focused on rhythm. As a class, we’ve been reveling in bouts of “rhythmic show-and-tell”: we take turns sharing rhythms we know from music we love, cool rhythms we feel deeply and genetically in our bones, rhythms we want to dance to and riff on. In turn, we have been making a concerted effort to reconcile our extremely advanced, fluent, funky rhythmic sensibilities with the square notational structures handed down by the Western European classical music tradition. It all makes for an interesting back-and-forth: as I strive in vain to notate their bar-line-defying funkiness to the nearest dot, the kids are exploring how basic rhythmic values can be strung and stacked into phrases, textures, and grooves that we can all enjoy.

Orchestra is probably the most exciting addition to our programming. Our very own Sumner Quartet cellist Laura Messina is one of the best youth conductors I’ve ever witnessed. She is funny and commanding. Her expectations are extremely high and the kids seem more than happy to reach with her. Truly, we (students and teachers alike) are transfixed by her energy and clarity. We are so lucky to have her. Watch for videos from Laura and the Chittick Orchestra in the near future!

julien orchestra 2013

A 3rd grade cellist follows his conductor

Chamber music remains an educational, artistic focus for us at the Chittick. In fact, after last year’s successful pilot of a twice-weekly chamber music class, we decided to make a more intensive dosage this year’s norm for all 3rd-5th graders. Using original Betsy Hinkle tunes and arrangements, traditional rounds, and improvisation as a vehicle, five youth string quintets and sextets are working on the tasks and skills of collaboration, and continuing to create and refine our community’s shared musical language and culture of respect, freedom, purpose, and joy.

betsy and chamber group 2013

A chamber group rehearses the piece “Switcheroo” by Betsy Hinkle

The BPQ at Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music


Jason’s cabin in the woods

From Jason:

After so many stories of chamber music, idyllic cabins, and legendary dances, I was ecstatic to finally get the complete Apple Hill experience this summer.   It delivered on every promise and more.

The friendly, inclusive spirit of Apple Hill was apparent upon arrival.  It’s a refreshing expectation there to take time and make sure everyone is comfortable and happy.  It was also apparent in the friendly, supportive, cross-generational music making.

My cabin was set deep in the woods, which allowed for extreme quiet – the type of quiet rarely, if ever experienced in Boston.   Even for a “city boy” like me, the lack of amenities was overshadowed by incomparable charm.  However, before I went back to my quiet cabin, there were frequent dance parties.  It’s pretty well known that I am a sucker for a good dance party, and in true Apple Hill form, I felt right at home.

Everyone should be lucky enough to experience the magic of Apple Hill. I can’t wait until our musiConnects students are old enough to attend along side the BPQ!

From Betsy:

I first began attending Apple Hill after a friend recommended it to me in 2003. They needed a violist (or violinist impersonating a violist) to fill out a Borodin quartet and I was excited to experience what looked to be a wonderful change of pace from my conservatory training and its aftermath of trying to make a living teaching and playing in Boston. (Interestingly, that same summer I met Marji Gere for the first time, right before she was headed on a Playing for Peace Fulbright to Cyprus!). That first summer, and the following five were incredibly transforming for me as a musician and a person. It was actually at Apple Hill that a rush of ideas flooded my awareness – the idea of chamber music as a model for peace-making and community building paired with an urban string quartet performance and education residency – an idea that leaped out at me from the pages of an article on Community MusicWorks in a Chamber Music America magazine that was floating around the Apple Hill Barn in 2005…

Attending Apple Hill with the Boston Public Quartet was one culmination of the dreams I had had while walking down that tree-lined dirt road. I couldn’t have imagined also attending with my husband, nine-month old baby girl and my mom. I was not only surrounded by my esteemed colleagues while we undertook the challenge of intricately preparing a full quartet program, and surrounded by the amazing Apple Hill faculty who helped us realize every nuance, I was surrounded by everyone I love. I definitely felt a sense of coming “home” when the BPQ played our first notes in the barn.  It felt so wonderful to perform after a meal for the most supportive, diverse collection of musicians in the world, and finally for the Apple Hill patrons who magically transform that old dusty barn into a first-class concert hall by filling it with palpable intensity through their enthusiastic listening summer after summer.

Greetings from the Sumner Quartet!


The Sumner Quartet on a whalewatch!
(From left to right: Liz, Laura, Josh, and Carol)

This year, the musiConnects program at the Sumner Elementary School in Roslindale has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston with the help and leadership of Nina Vansuch. The Sumner Quartet is finding that having a stronger presence in the school has really been a positive experience. We have a brand new class of six beginners in addition to the nine returning students from last year, and also a sizable waiting list of interested students! This year, in addition to the private lessons portion of the program, the Sumner musiConnects students are participating in a large group music circle class. They seem to really enjoy working together in the group class to develop chamber music skills and a sense of community. The students have been enthusiastic about the new program, and they have also been extremely responsible about remembering all their materials, and flexible working with schedule adjustments as we settle into a new routine.

There is now a broad range of abilities with the students of musiConnects at the Sumner since adding a new class of students. The first year players are learning proper posture, bowhold, how to create a good sound and are working on plucking the “roots” (a.k.a. the bassline) of Bile ’em Cabbage Down for our first All Play concert of the year this December. The second year players are quickly reviewing where they left off with their teacher last year, playing songs like Hot Cross Buns and The Pickle Song, and moving on to more difficult repertoire. Many of the second year students will be moving to the “stem” (a.k.a. melody) of Bile ’em Cabbage Down for the concert.  It has been interesting seeing the leadership qualities that come out of the second year students in our music circle time together. We are working on keeping a steady beat, cueing and building a strong musiConnects community. This weekly time all together has helped to reinforce skills learned in lessons and create some consistency from week to week.

In May, the Sumner Quartet traveled to the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson, NH, for a weekend of intensive rehearsing, and were coached by Apple Hill Executive and Artistic Director, Lenny Matczynski as well as the first violinist of the Apple Hill String Quartet, Elise Kuder, both of whom shared with us a bounty of new musical ideas and ingenious rehearsal techniques. At the retreat and in the months since, the Sumner Quartet has worked to prepare Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59 No. 1, sometimes called the first “Razumovsky” quartet, and will perform two movements of the work at the upcoming Free for All concert at the Mattapan Public Library on November 21. We are also looking forward to collaborating with our colleagues from the Boston Public Quartet in a performance of one of Felix Mendelssohn’s most beloved works, and a piece—astonishingly—that he composed at the age of sixteen: the Octet in E-Flat for strings.

-Laura Messina, Liz Stefan, & Josh Addison

A message from Michael


I am writing to you from the Avenue of the Arts, not far from New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, at the office of the NPR show “From the Top” where I have taken on a full-time position in the education department.

My role here, as Program Manager for Arts Leadership on the National Tour, is to engage performers on the show as leaders in the arts. I introduce the young musicians to pictures of practice through an Arts Leadership Orientation, produce an outreach workshop with the group, and advise them on leadership projects in their locale. In this slideshow, there are some photos of me on the job!

This position takes me to many states across the US (South Dakota and Ohio so far, with California and North Carolina coming this month). In between travels, I am in Boston and I am not all that far from the Chittick! The musiConnects community – with its inspiring students, parents, supporters, and teachers – remain close to my heart. This year, I am glad to perform with the BPQ as a regular guest musician, visit the students for their performance parties, and continue to be an ambassador for the valuable work that musiConnects does in the neighborhoods of Boston.

I wish all of you a wonderful autumn season and I can’t wait to see the students’ growth at the next performance party!




Michael and Jovi, 3rd grade cello student at the Chittick, spring 2013.