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A New Instrument and a Fresh Start

Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program brings the transformative power of music to people in the justice system and in communities throughout New York City by offering workshops, concerts, and long-term projects designed to have a powerful impact on participants’ daily lives. Dennis, 15, first became involved with Carnegie Hall through a Musical Connections songwriting project at Passages Academy, a school for court-involved youth. Working with Nós Novo—a band that fuses Celtic, Brazilian, and jazz traditions—and hip-hop collective Circa ’95, Dennis and other participants developed songs over a series of workshops, recorded them in a professional studio, and celebrated their new works with a set of performances for family, friends, staff, and the community, including a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Digital Music Production workshops 2 (Richard Termine)

But Dennis didn’t stop there. During the songwriting sessions, he mentioned to Carnegie Hall staff that he played the violin, but after his previous instrument broke, he wasn’t able to get a new one. He had started learning violin at age seven, and said that playing the instrument calmed him down and kept him safe while growing up in an otherwise unsafe neighborhood. With encouragement from Carnegie Hall and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, Dennis applied to receive a refurbished violin as part of the Student Promise Awards scholarship sponsored by StringQuest, an online music education site, writing, “If I had a violin, it would get me through the day when things are going south.” Thanks to his great essay and a nomination from Carnegie Hall, Dennis received a new instrument, giving him the opportunity to continue his musical exploration.

Dennis’s story is just one example of Carnegie Hall’s commitment to working with youth in the justice system.

Carnegie Hall continued to support Dennis in his musical pursuits once he transitioned home. He takes part in weekly Digital Music Production Workshops, part of the Hall’s new afterschool youth programming in the Resnick Education Wing. During the sessions, he works with professional musicians and producers to create, record, and produce his own music, gaining hands-on experience with creative software and audio-mixing consoles, while learning about music production techniques used in hip-hop, rap, and R&B. Dennis also learns the violin as part of the Harmony Program, a community-based afterschool string program.

Dennis’s story is just one example of Carnegie Hall’s commitment to working with youth in the justice system. Songwriting projects in juvenile justice facilities, public high schools, and other venues help keep vulnerable youth engaged in school and their communities, giving them the opportunity to tell their stories and build a positive sense of self. Young people on probation are also given the chance to explore the arts through transformative projects in a variety of disciplines as part of NeON Arts, a program of the NYC Department of Probation in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

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