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Gifts Of Music Program Provides Private Lessons To Students

The West Hartford Public Schools Gifts of Music program is hosting a concert, on Oct. 21, to benefit the continuing mission to provide private lessons to students.

Deb Berman, who is on the program's advisory committee, got involved in the effort while working as an administrative assistant in the school's arts office. She retired last year.

"The group talked about that not all the children in West Hartford have the opportunity to have private lessons," Berman said. "They can all get them at the school, but progress sometimes is enhanced by a little extra help."

Gifts of Music, Berman said, is a collaboration between West Hartford Public Schools, the University of Hartford's The Hartt School, private donors, the Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Charitable Trust, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

"I can't stress enough the cooperation," Berman said. "The West Hartford public school teachers are invested in it. The Hartt School Community Division has been great providing us with teachers. That's what makes it work, the fact that it's a partnership."

Benefit concerts like the one being held on Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Intensive Education Academy in West Hartford, are part of what helps Gifts of Music provide so much for students.

"We service about 25 students per year," Berman said. "We start them in fifth grade. We've chosen the schools that have a more needy population. As those children continue in the program, they receive lessons in middle school and high school as well. They are private lessons once a week ,and they're given by professional musicians from the Hartt School."

Students receive between 30 and 34 lessons a year, with each lesson lasting 30 to 45 minutes. All the Gifts of Music asks from them is commitment. Since Gifts of Music was founded in 2002, some of the original beneficiaries of the program are now in college.

"We've had kids continue from fifth grade to 12th grade," Berman said. "And now, they are in college."

This year's concert will feature saxophonist Alexa Tarantino. Tarantino is a Hall High School graduate who currently lives in New York City. She'll be bringing with her a full group of performers that includes Emiliano Lasansky, Steven Feifke, Leo Manzari, and Jimmy Macbride.

Berman said they're excited to show off the talent of Tarantino, the West Hartford native.

"That's the draw, in terms of our audience," Berman said. "It might be a name they recognize from Conard or Hall and they'd like to see them again. We also feature our student musicians. It showcases what music in West Hartford is all about."

The concert will also feature jazz musicians from both Conard High School and Hall High School, as well as I Giovani Solisti, an orchestra of string musicians from both high schools. Suzuki music students from West Hartford schools will also perform.

"We want to show what music is all about and hope to spark interest in people in donating," Berman said.

Gifts of Music does more than provide private lessons, too. It sponsors instrument recycling, which helps gets used instruments in the hands of students who need it. It also sponsors a two-week summer camp for Suzuki music students. The program also has a summer jazz scholarship that provides a set of lessons for a high school jazz student.

"I always believed that music is important to all children," Berman said. "Working for almost 20 years for the arts department drove home that point. I knew when I retired I wanted to stay involved in this. We've seen the arts play a large piece in educating our children."

Tickets for the show on Oct. 21 can be purchased online at giftsofmusic.us.

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