“Once upon a time, I was asked to portray Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras in a movie.
I didn’t know who she was, so Miramax Pictures sent me a documentary about her titled “Fiddlefest.”
From the moment I saw the documentary, I became obsessed with Roberta.
She has spent years teaching children in East Harlem to play the violin.
When her music program was eventually eliminated amid budget cuts, Roberta formed Opus 118 and turned to corporate and private donations to help her keep teaching.
I immediately flew to New York once given a start date for the film on her and threw myself into four months of Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras boot camp.
In addition to taking violin lessons six days a week with her, I followed her to the schools where she teaches, took her classes there and observed her interacting with her students.
I watched her nurture them, berate them, love them and challenge them.
I watched her whip herself and her students into a frenzy while rehearsing for her program’s year-end concert.
I even got to play in the concert. Well, okay, only the simple songs. But when I wasn’t playing, I was watching, and what I saw was truly magical.
Children from 6 to 17 playing a mind-boggling array of music from Bach’s Double Concerto to the Telemann Sinfonia to “We Shall Overcome.”
I saw excitement and confidence oozing from the children. I saw pride and even some fear in the eyes of the adults in the audience.
And then there was Roberta, leading her students like the Pied Piper and playing along with them like a woman possessed.
I suddenly realized that she was an angel in East Harlem.
The gift she gives to children who would otherwise never be exposed to this kind of music should be honored.
The gift she gives to the East Harlem community where she both works and lives should be supported.
The gift she gives to the universe is precious and rare and should be valued.
Some of her students have gone on to perform with the city’s Interschool Orchestras and the New York Youth Symphony.
Others have been accepted to the LaGuardia performing arts high school the Mannes School of Music preparatory division, the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School’s music advancement program for promising young minority musicians.
There’s no glamor in what Roberta does, and there certainly isn’t any monetary gain.
What I want to know is, why isn’t there more support?
Why does Roberta get to the end of every year and wonder if she’s going to have a job the next?
Or how she’s going to buy new violins for the children?
Why are music and art programs the first to go when budgets are cut in the public school system?
Where would we be without music and art?
Why doesn’t the City of New York do something about it?
Why doesn’t the mayor? Why don’t you?
Forget about saving the whales.
Let’s save Roberta’s violin program.
You’ve probably heard that I’m no longer in the upcoming movie about her, “Fifty Violins,” because of creative differences.
Yes, I was disappointed at first, but then I realized that I had already gotten the most important thing I could get out of the experience.
I learned how to play the violin, and I became friends with a remarkable woman and a beautiful soul — Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras.”
© New York Times