2017-03-16 / Front Page

Pell Inspiration Program Celebrates Love of Music

By Betsy Sherman Walker

A three-day artist-in-residence program featuring a string quartet that will perform not once or twice in the school auditorium but repeatedly and in unexpected and non-traditional venues is scheduled next week for the students at Pell Elementary School.

From Wednesday through Friday, March 22-24, thanks to the Pell Inspiration Program, the Providence based Bohemian String Quartet will be a musical presence at the Pell school campus. The musicians will play in various spots in and around the facility, so students will come upon them in non-traditional places as they walk to class, or the gym, like happening upon sidewalk musicians.

“We want to be — what they call in Silicon Valley — disruptive,” says Peter Gerard, who with his wife Melinda created the program last year in honor of his late mother, a lover of the arts. According to Gerard, this will not be the traditional stage-audience relationship, and the hope is it that it will encourage students to better embrace the possibilities of music by making it more intimate and less academic.

The Bohemian Quartet will be the first Artists-in-Residence group with the Pell Inspiration Program (PIP) on March 22-24. The Bohemian Quartet will be the first Artists-in-Residence group with the Pell Inspiration Program (PIP) on March 22-24. “The fact is,” he says, “this is not about music. It’s about exposing young children to people who are inspiring. The hope is that they’ll [think] it’s okay to be inspired, and to think about what they can accomplish.”

The occasion is March is Music In Our Schools Month, a month-long recognition, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education, of the importance of music education in the nation’s schools.

Peter Gerard’s mother, Loti Falk Gaffney, filled her life and her home with music. “There was always music around,” said Gerard of his childhood. A co-founder of the Pittsburgh Ballet and benefactress of the arts in that city, she was also a strong believer in public education.

The Gerards divide their time between Dallas and their home in the Fifth Ward. It was their growing sense of community with Newport that brought the Gerards to their gift. Three or four years ago, after a friend asked if they would consider donating to the Pell School Technology Fund, an invitation followed from Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain to visit the school. “We were blown away,” Peter said. “We thought, this is the future. The way you make Newport schools the way they should be.” They became involved, “in a small way,” with the technology fund.

In 2015, Falk Gaffney passed away; in her will she left a bequest to public schools.

Last summer, at a Newport Music Festival fundraiser, talk turned to the variety of ways one could support the 48-year-old organization. “I knew we wanted to make a contribution,” Gerard said, “but for the kids. And we wanted to focus on Pell.”

The Pell Parent Teacher Organization, says Gerard, is also planning on a spaghetti dinner, with the quartet, as roving musicians, supplying the entertainment.

The official name of the pro- gram is the Loti Falk Gaffney Pell Elementary School Music Empowerment Trust. Among those serving on its board are Virginia Gambale, the newly elected President of the Board of the Newport Music Festival, Keith Tavares, president of the Newport Public Education Foundation, and Superintendent Jermain.

The plan is to have four such series a year, to expose the students to a diverse range of musical styles and to help PIP in the summer with a fundraiser.

The arrival, next Wednesday, of the Bohemian String quartet, will be PIP’s “first shot. We’ll have to take a look at it very carefully, and see how it works,” said Berard.

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