Toot suite

Newark children turn out and tune up for R.A.M.P., the annual recorder extravaganza.


In NJPAC’s pre-curtain announcements, the audience is advised against the use of sound or video recorders. On one afternoon every year, however, recorders are in order.


Recorder Arts for Musical Pathways (R.A.M.P.), NJPAC’s music program in partnership with Newark Public Schools (NPS), held a boisterous, year-end finale concert on June 13, which also marked R.A.M.P.’s fifth anniversary.


How many third- and fourth-graders can say they’ve accompanied jazz artists of the stature of Camille Thurman or Oscar Perez in performance … or a string trio from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra … in a concert hall setting?


About 1,700, just this time around. A total of approximately 4,000 youngsters participated in the in-school music program for either the first or second year.


Alison Scott-Williams, NJPAC’s Vice President of Arts Education, crunched the numbers for students, teachers and adults in the Prudential Hall audience. Fifty-two buses transported the Newark children and 30 educators to NJPAC from 25 city schools, an uptick from 2016-17. She credited title sponsor M&T Bank, as well as the Women’s Association of NJPAC, for the support needed to give the youngsters their moment to shine.


Margaret El, Special Assistant for the Arts for NPS, has attended the concerts for the last three years and was elated that about 3,500 new recorders were put in little hands – in many cases, leading kids to advance their music studies.


“I’m seeing a lot more consistency and interest across the district, where administrators and not just teachers are more engaged with this program,” she said.



R.A.M.P. teaching artist Patricia Billings, who also conducted, and jazz drummer Jerome Jennings, the afternoon’s emcee, kept the young instrumentalists in top form, whether they were performing as the R.A.M.P. all-stars seated on stage or from their place in the audience. Professional musicians included a jazz ensemble (Jennings on drums, Perez on piano, Thurman on sax, flute and vocals, Elias Bailey on bass and Bruce Harris on trumpet), the NJSO string trio (Minji Kwan on violin, Elzbieta Weyman on viola and Hyewon Kim on cello), and recorder artist and clarinetist Moran Katz, accompanied by pianist Robert Stephens.


Because the children had mastered favorites like the West African welcome song “Funga Alafia,” “Hot Cross Buns,” “Oye Como Va,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” they hit their cues – loud and clear. “I can’t wait to hear how you sound next year!” Jennings exclaimed at one point.


The pros took turns demonstrating to the students where their “musical pathways” could lead someday by playing pieces composed by themselves and others. “United” by Newarker Wayne Shorter was a showpiece for trumpeter Harris; the NJSO musicians dug into Erno Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio; and Billings penned “The Elementary School Day Blues” to introduce students to the sound of the blues.


June 18, 2018