New York, NY —Forty-three string musicians from Success Academy Charter Schools had elite company for their first orchestral performance – musicians from the world-renowned New York Philharmonic – when they took the stage of the United Palace Theater on Saturday, Jan. 31.

Elementary and middle school scholars from Success Academy Harlem 1 and Success Academy Harlem Central joined other beginner string players from schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island at the theater in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood for a performance that included Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and the French folk song “Frère Jacques,” following an afternoon master class.

The students received instruction in how to follow a conductor, harmonize with different instruments and transition to and from the stage under the guidance of conductor Julie Desbordes, a trumpeter with 10 years of experience performing and conducting on the international stage.  

 “I think it’s a very special day because whether they’re beginners or more advanced, they work towards the same goal, which is playing together in an orchestra,” said Desbordes.  “As soon as we can gather them and play together it’s exciting. It’s great for students to get out of the schools and perform in this beautiful theater.”

The students at Success Academy – the city’s largest charter school network – were selected for the program by their principals, provided with violas, violins, and cellos, and expected to commit to two hours of practice per day, four days a week.

Saturday’s event marked the culmination of Success Academy students’ first semester studying with professional musicians from The Harmony Program, which brings orchestra instruction to underserved communities in New York City. 

Said violinist Heavenly Clark, a Success Academy Harlem Central sixth-grader, “It was fun – really amazing. I was nervous, but it was nice to play with my friends. If you got behind the music, there were other people to guide you.”

For Jaden Davis, a third grader at Success Academy Harlem 1, learning the viola provides an outlet for self-expression. “I love playing the viola, because music shows how I feel,” Jaden said. “If I feel happy, I play happy, if I feel silly I play silly.”

Founded in 2006, Success Academy is a free public charter school network with the dual mission of building world-class public schools across New York City and advancing education reform across the country. Success Academy operates 32 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Admission is open to all New York City families. Students are admitted by random lottery, held each April. Across the Success Academy network of K-12 schools, 76% of students are from low-income households; 8.5% are English Language Learners, and 12% are special needs students. About 94% of students are children of color. For more information about Success Academy, go to
Beginner String Orchestra 2[4]
Photo by Stephen PileBeginner String Orchestra[3]
Photo by Stephen PileBeginner Strings 5[3]
Photo by Mike FitelsonBeginner Strings 6[3]
Photo by Mike Fitelson

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