Harmony – GTCYS’ before-school strings instruction program – breaks down barriers to music education, provides an accessible entry-point, and creates a musical pathway for underrepresented students at Riverview West Side School of Excellence. After graduating from Harmony, students move into Philharmonia East with the goal of advancing through GTCYS’ school-year orchestras all the way to Symphony.
Now in its sixth year, Harmony continues to help alumni reach new heights. Several alumni are playing in Sinfonia East for the first time this season – and they love it! “I like Sinfonia East because of the conductor and how he gets along with people and listens to others,” says Ydidya Meheretia, a Harmony alum and 7th grade violinist. After participating in Philharmonia East, working with Sinfonia East conductor Ernesto Esitgarribia is a new experience for Harmony alums like Benjamin Diaz. “Ernesto is great,” Benjamin says. “He’s really specific on what he wants you to do.”
“We can do hard things” is a core value that students learn in Harmony and GTCYS’ school-year orchestras. For most students, Sinfonia East is the first time they’ve played in a full orchestra with strings, winds, and brass. It’s a new experience that can be intimidating at first. Ydiddya’s sister, Bitania, is a Harmony alum as well. At first, she was nervous about moving up to Sinfonia East. But after spending a month in rehearsals, she’s confident in her playing ability. Bitania says “My favorite thing about Sinfonia East is that the music is fun and now I’m not scared anymore.”
Sinfonia East is also a step up in music difficulty level. Benjamin enjoys the extra challenge he gets each week in rehearsals. “My favorite thing about being in Sinfonia East is the music. It’s really fun and I really like it this year.” Benjamin, Ydidya, and Bitania play in Sinfonia East with fellow Harmony alums Tania Sanchez and Dylan Mendoza de Librado. They’re all learning how to do hard things, and they’ll continue to apply these skills in GTCYS and beyond.
GTCYS opens so many doors to new friendships, great music, and exciting performance opportunities. Ydidya knows that and it’s why she continues to play violin in GTCYS. “I like Sinfonia East because of the music and how we all get along,” she says. “At the end, we play in Orchestra Hall and it’s amazing.” Harmony alums have grown in leaps and bounds from where they started. Through hard work, they’re well on their way to playing in Symphony some day, and potentially receiving music scholarships for college. We can’t wait to see what these Harmony alums do next!
Harmony is possible through grants from Aroha Philanthropies, The Sheltering Arms Foundation, and the City of St. Paul Cultural STAR. Gifts from community members like you keep Harmony alums going with tuition assistance, private lessons, and instruments. To help students like Ydiddya, Benjamin, and Bitania continue to grow and excel, give the gift of music today at gtcys.org/donate.