Letter: Kids 4 Harmony unlocks the magic

Kids 4 Harmony unlocks the magic

To the editor:

Kudos to the new local ownership of The Berkshire Eagle for spotlighting significant issues that affect our Berkshire communities! The Seranak conversation organized by Eagle leadership in collaboration with the Boston Symphony and reported on by Clarence Fanto on July 30 offered an outstanding example of this new direction.

While acknowledging the tremendous potential of the creative economy and the value of the arts, a succession of people spoke to the economic divide that exists in parts of the Berkshires and the resulting uneven prospects for youth. Berkshire Children and Families, serving Pittsfield and the Berkshires since 1887, recognized this opportunity gap several years ago and shifted our strategic focus to address it. We believe all people possess strengths, but not all live in resource-rich environments that offer openings instead of obstacles.

In 2012 we founded Kids 4 Harmony, an intensive, ensemble based, afterschool classical music program inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema program for social transformation. We started at Morningside Community School and now have 50 children playing stringed instruments. In North Adams, another 22 children participate at the Brayton School.

Our teachers form trusting relationships with children and hold the bar high to achieve musical excellence. Research verifies that this approach to musical education enhances brain development, leading to self-control, retention of information, focus and problem solving. The joy of making music together fosters teamwork and social/emotional development. All this can result in academic excellence, self-confidence and citizenship — attributes requisite for life success. Families join us in respectful partnerships built on pride in their children's accomplishments and hope for their future.

Our program is over 95 percent funded through private philanthropy, with many generous contributions coming from year- round and second-home residents living in affluent communities in South and North Berkshires — people who care deeply about the potential of the arts to change the lives of children. Our success was celebrated at the July 11 Kids 4 Harmony concert where the advanced octet performed with renowned pianist Emanuel Ax.

In the recent Eagle article, President Fredric D. Rutberg is quoted: "I firmly believe there's magic in these mountains, and a lot of what we've heard here tonight are ways to sort of unlock this magic." Anyone present on July 11 would tell you that the magic has sounded loud through Kids 4 Harmony.

Carolyn Mower Burns, Pittsfield The writer is president and CEO of Berkshire Children and Families.


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