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Xueli Wang for Spectator

In a basement room, on a recent Wednesday, tucked behind a concrete staircase near the 125th Street subway station, four toddlers waved miniature violin bows. The children—all under the age of four—were practicing at Silver Music. The program opened in the spring in a living room-like space in the basement of 45 Tiemann Place in West Harlem. Ellen Silver, a Suzuki method-trained music teacher and professional cellist, said it was a nice coincidence that she ended up in this neighborhood because of its concentration of musicians. "I'll be teaching at night, and all these Broadway musicians will be walking down to the subway carrying bassoons and saxophones," she said. "Tons of professional musicians live here." Families participating said that the school brings music to children who may have lost opportunities in their public schools due to recession cuts in arts funds. "I know that almost all the public schools in the area have cut music," said Annabelle Hoffman, a parent of one of the children in Silver's school who is also a professional cellist and a Morningside Heights resident. "It's not only sad, but I think it's dangerous to remove this influence." And Silver said it was important to her that she offers discounted prices for struggling families. Despite the economy, Silver said she hopes to expand the program to provide a space for both professionals and amateurs to play. Joe Tanen, a professional violin maker who works in West Harlem and makes instruments for Silver, said that he likes to offer discounts to students so they can continue their lessons. "I'm sure there could always be more money towards the arts in our public schools," he said. Jennifer Grogan, head of the Riverside Church Weekday School, where Silver also works as a teacher, said that taking advantage of neighborhood resources is crucial. "We are surrounded by beautiful music, and to have that as part of the children's education experience is essential," she said. Grogan said that organizations like Silver Music should increase collaboration between neighborhood artists and the local music schools and arts venues, including the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia. For some students involved, it's simply a chance to make noise. Last Wednesday, students took turns making beats and speaking out rhythms in the room surrounded by miniature cellos, stacks of toddler-sized chairs, and cubbies filled with flashcards. "Here we're more like mentoring, slowly and carefully, through the process of choosing an instrument," Silver said.

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