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When the Music Teachers Come Out to Play

Third St - duet
Two pianos, four hands: Piano department chair Joan Forsyth plays “Dialogue” by Dina Koston (1929-2009), whom she knew, along with Vanessa Lee (partially obscured).

Sometimes the riches of what’s given away for free in New York City can feel humbling: We are offered the artistic fruits of musicians, painters and writers at the top of their game, who share their work for the pleasure of sharing, asking nothing more than our attention.

One such gift is given each Friday night at 7 o’clock at the Third Street Music School Settlement. This free concert series turns the tables on the 1,800 students who study music at the school, placing their teachers in the spotlight for a change. In fact, says communications director Kerry Greene, one inspiration for the series was “to give our students an opportunity to attend professional performances and to experience the artistry of their teachers.”

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Once located on 3rd Street, the school has been located on 11th Street since 1974.

Tomorrow, for example, violist Chiu-Chen Liu, who heads the school’s strings department, will play works by Robert Schumann, accompanied by piano teacher Vanessa Lee. Through early spring, performances are scheduled including a voice and chamber ensemble in December, a guitar and jazz trio in January, ballet and samba in February, and solo piano in March.

On November 7, I attended the “Music Made in America” program, which opened with a lecture by pianist Margaret Mills (who runs the school’s Adult Performance Workshop) about American composers from 1800 through the present. Her handout, filled with well-known composers like Scott Joplin and Aaron Copland, also listed Hugh Sam and Nicholas Scarim, who are on the Third Street faculty and whose works were also performed that night.

It was an intimate and enriching evening, a refreshing change of pace at the end of a work week. Piano teacher Nnenna Ogwo played “Four Inventions for Piano” by African American composer Ulysses Kay (1917-1995). Voice teacher Walker Jermaine Jackson sang the tenor part of “Ishmael,” by Scarim (who is on the guitar faculty), with cello teacher Shanda Wooley and Mills herself on piano. Others presented works by George Gershwin and Andre Previn. According to Kerry Greene, many faculty members and students live in the immediate area or have roots on the Lower East Side. “We also take pride in having multi-generational families among our student body and staff,” she said.

Third St - solo
A highlight of the evening was piano teacher Hugh Sam’s performance of his world premiere “Musical Recollections – 1894-2014,” which was commissioned in celebration of the 120th anniversary.

This year the Third Street Music School Settlement celebrates its 120th anniversary, and also has welcomed a new executive director, Valerie Lewis. The school is planning a full renovation of its auditorium into a “state-of-the-art venue.” Next month the school will celebrate with another 120-year-old neighbor on East 11th Street, Veniero’s Pasticceria, with caroling and cookies on December 18.


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