July 18, 2019 | 74° F

Rutgers students teach New Brunswick children music

Photo by Camilo Montoya-Galvez |

The Rutgers chapter of the American String Teachers Association works with New Brunswick High School students every week to teach them music.

On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, echoes of soothing symphonies travelled through the halls of the New Brunswick High School.

The sound could be traced to one of the school’s music rooms, where a group of Rutgers students and students from the high school came together to play various string instruments. Under the guidance of the college musicians, the young orchestra members worked to enrich their violin, viola or cello playing techniques.

The participating University students are part of the Rutgers chapter of the American String Teachers Association, a national organization for music educators and string instrument players. The campus group, which was established in the fall of 2014, is the only recognized chapter in New Jersey.

“We really wanted to get a volunteer component because we think it’s important to give back to your community,” said Seth Van Embden, president of the group and a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior.

Van Embden and other members of the chapter saw a window of opportunity when they found out that the New Brunswick high school had a string program for students who could not fit orchestra classes on their schedules.

They teamed up with the arts department of the New Brunswick school system and Marybeth Purcell, a music teacher in the high school and organizer of the school’s string program.

Having more experienced and technical string players to help mentor the students has been beneficial, she said. The members of the chapter allow her to divide her students into smaller groups and have them concentrate on practicing their respective instruments.

“When they can go off and work on the particular parts that they are having trouble with (alongside) a Rutgers student, it lets them get it better,” Purcell said.

This one-on-one support is what the chapter’s secretary, Brianna Tagliaferro, enjoys offering the students the most.

“I really just love working with students and…hopefully inspiring them to play music,” the Mason Gross School of the Arts junior said. “Today I worked with a student on (the) cello. We really worked on some good stuff that I think … is gonna help her improve with the orchestra music that they are playing.”

The school’s string program includes a session for beginners on Wednesdays and an advanced one on Thursdays for students who have been playing a string instrument since fourth or fifth grade, Purcell said.

For Karlina Jaquez, a New Brunswick High School senior, the string program not only teaches her “self-discipline,” but offers her a time in which she can relax and take a break from the many extracurricular activities she partakes in.

She said she can connect with the Rutgers students because of the small age difference.

“Mrs. Purcell was my fourth grade teacher … so she’s a mom now,” Jaquez humorously said. "(With the college students) we can have different conversations…and it’s easier to like have that vibe.”

Jaquez and her classmates will perform various musical pieces in two concerts this June, Purcell said.

Eli Schaffer, a member of the chapter and a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year student, said the volunteer collaboration with the high school will aid his pursuit to become a music educator after graduation.

“I like to give back and use my time for things like this,” he said. “I like teaching ... and so it’s good to experience what I can now to take it later in life.”

For Van Embden, the initiative is an effective way to direct student volunteer efforts around the University’s surrounding area.

“As Rutgers students living in New Brunswick, we are partially responsible for the ecosystem that New Brunswick has,” he said. “We use its resource to fund our education ... so I think it is really important to give to back to the city that we are living and learning in.”

Moreover, this joint program with the New Brunswick community highlights the often overlooked properties of music, Tagliaferro said.

“Music isn’t just performing – that’s a big part of it – but a big part of it is teaching and helping people get to immerse with their passion in music,” she said.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez

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