Volume 3, Number 1 | May 2021
Note from the Executive Director

One year later…and The Fil has not only survived but thrived! It is hard to believe that we have been virtual for one entire year. This is my opportunity to thank all of the students, families, teachers, staff and donors for their enduring commitment to the Music School. We have discovered new ways of making lemonade from lemons! Our pattern of addressing and overcoming challenges continues but with a slight twist: our independence as an organization has allowed all of our valuable constituents to take ownership of the FMDG Music School. The School literally feels like it belongs to every last one of us!

After last summer’s successful launch of remote mini-classes on interesting and engaging subjects, we continued to offer an amazing array of classes in both the fall and spring semesters. It has paid off: our students have been flocking to these classes and we have gained new students nationwide—Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, California—plus we recruited new students from central NJ and Rockland County, NY. Thank you to Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation for providing support for this expansion of our curriculum.

Performances have been held virtually; however, the recorded snippets of our ensembles and individuals have provided a significant snapshot of our ongoing work and progress. The performances continue to astound all of us!

I’ll keep updating everyone on the happenings at The Fil. Stay tuned—there is much to share!


The Fil has never had a Performathon like the one held on March 21, 2021. Virtual meant that all performances were pre-recorded and presented live that day. Attendance held at 100 strong throughout the entire two and a half hours and if we had not (mistakenly) capped the number of attendees at 100, the total count would probably have been more like 150! The funds raised set an all-time record for its fourteen-year history: $25,000. Our student body led the way with their incredible outreach to people all over the world. Let us congratulate Morgan Adriazola, Daniel Gillen, and Ryan Maxwell for the top honors in fundraising!

The team producing the Performathon were spectacular: Dalia Sakas for programming, Amanda Wheeler for navigating the logistics and Zoom presentation, Pablo Rodriguez for spotlighting and adding some bells and whistles, Michelle Trovato for her terrific social media spotlights and thermometer fund-tracking, and all the teachers for their diligent preparation of their students. We recognize and salute each and every one of them:
Man at digital keyboard
Jennifer Apsel, piano; Svetlana Avezbakiyeva, piano and braille music; Katharine Flanders, flute and vocal ensemble coaching; Daniel Gillen, braille music specialist; Juan Pablo Horcasitas, piano, teen vocal group; Konrad Kamm, drums and accessible music technology; Yo Kano, piano and accessible music technology; Chris Petz, guitar and VIPs ensemble; Jon Price, guitar and bass; Pablo Rodriguez, theory, instrumental ensemble and accessible music technology; Dalia Sakas, piano, vocal ensemble and youth chorus director; John Sanfilippo, accessible music technology and jazz styles; Charlotte Surkin, voice; Richard Thai, saxophone, instrumental ensemble, and large print music specialist; Michelle Trovato, voice, teen vocal group.
Because our original fundraising goal was $12,000 and because we doubled that goal, our executive team offered every student the opportunity to join one of our special classes free of charge. The class, Conversations with Opera Heroines, has seventeen students enrolled in it and is being led by faculty member Michelle Trovato.   
January 2021 Open Houses. To give prospective new students and returning students an overview of our Music School, our faculty and course offerings, The Fil presented both live and virtual demonstrations and descriptions of music classes. From sample voice and woodwind lessons to guitar and pop/rock/jazz ensembles to a panoply of accessible music technology products and demos, our team pitched various experiences to be had at The Fil. We’re happy to report that our enrollment increased by ten new students in the spring!
 Field Trip Course. Designed by Dalia Sakas, Director of Music Studies, a new CMPYP class for teens aged 12 and over was created to fight Zoom fatigue and to foster creativity. The virtual field trips are 40-minute sessions, giving students the opportunity to explore different cultures and locations through music. Each week, FMDG faculty or guest artists lead students on a unique trip. So far, students have virtually visited New Zealand, Mexico, Naples, Italy, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Ipanema Beach and Matthew Whitaker’s basement studio, among other locations. This popular class will be offered for adults this summer.
Continuing Education. Our Executive Team is actively promoting The Fil through seminars, presentations and discussions.

o  Dr. Leslie Jones, Executive Director, presented "Do We Need to See to Play Jazz? - Strategies for Music Teaching for Those with Vision Loss" to the New York University Collegium for undergraduate music education students in February 2021, hosted by Dr. Elise Sobol. 
o  Dr. Dalia Sakas presented a brief recent history, new class offerings and the resilience of the FMDG Music School to the National Federation of the Blind at their 64th Annual New York State Convention in October 2020.
o  The FMDG Music School was invited to join the NYC Regional Braille Challenge for the first time in 2021 as a vendor. Amanda Wheeler, Director of Administration, spoke to NYC students, parents, and teachers during the opening ceremonies on March 8, 2021.
Feature Articles
Comprehensive Music Program for Young People (CMPYP)
Mentoring Initiative

The CMPYP Mentoring program is up and running! In a grass-roots initiative inspired by CMPYP alumni with a generous desire to ‘give back’ to their community, a program matching mentors with mentees was enacted this spring. After planning meetings involving CMPYP graduates, current students, parents, and staff, and support start-up funding from New York Community Trust, a set of guidelines was put together outlining specifics of the program. The mission is to match interested current FMDG students (mentees) with program graduates (mentors), to enable those with questions and desire to pursue topics on a wide range of issues, working with a like-minded CMPYP graduate. The program is modeled on non-profit mentoring programs that match services for people at different stages in their development with experienced peers. Mentees and mentors alike benefit from this mutually rewarding program.
Happily, this first round of mentoring matches yielded six teams (mostly in pairs). Mentees choose topics to work on, ranging from the musical to the extra-musical, and in general drive the content of the sessions. The mentor meets with him/her/they in regular meetings, generally weekly or bi-weekly. The mentor also guides conversation on subjects of mutual interest to spark dialog and build rapport – all in a confidential environment within the team. While not a ‘big brother/big sister’ program per se, the program gives younger students the opportunity to tap the brain of older successful students who know the ropes.  Mentors keep in touch by monthly check-ins with program staff, and all can reach out to staff with any questions. This first session will last through the end of this academic year in June, and other teams of mentors and mentees will be made available in the fall semester. Interested CMPYP students will be interested to check back in if they might want to participate in this exciting offering!
Mentoring in Higher Education

Shout out to our wonderful interns--graduate students from CUNY--Hunter College and our D’Agostino Accessible Music Technology Fellow from NYU.
o  Peter Leo was introduced to us through colleagues at Hunter College’s conducting program, Peter joined us during the pandemic and made wonderful contributions to the CMPYP, even though virtual! Peter is a part of the Mellon Public Humanities Scholars Program, and documented his work through a written paper, “Teaching Music to the Visually Impaired: An Approach to Universal Design for Improved, More Equitable Teaching Practices”, Mentor: Dr. Victor Bobetsky. Peter spoke about his experience: “I was able to get invaluable experience and learn firsthand about my topic from the people who it will impact the most. I know that there are not many places [FMDG Music School] I could have had such an important learning experience, so I consider myself fortunate.” 
o  Simon Isakov is pursuing his Master of Arts in Music Education at Hunter College, CUNY, where he is in his final semester of student teaching. Simon has now worked at both middle (JHS292) and high school levels (Stuyvesant High School), in general music and choral studies. He is in his second-year internship with The Fil, where he has taught K-12 students. Watching Simon grow as a music educator has been wonderful because Simon hailed from our Comprehensive Music Program for Young People. Simon has learned invaluable lessons at The Fil and wishes to pay his experience forward. Simon commented, “The Fil is a really good community. Everyone wants to be there and everyone looks out for each other. The kids are so interested in learning, disciplined, staying focused and are truly excited about music!”

Photography by Bradley Lau
A man with glasses and a beard
o Willie Payne is a Ph.D. Candidate in Music Technology at NYU Steinhardt and a researcher in the Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) and the Ability Project. He is also in his second year with The Fil as the prestigious D’Agostino Accessible Music Technology Fellow. Willie is an invaluable member of our Technology Division and is contributing significant insights to our ongoing transcription and library projects. Among the many special components of his work with The Fil, Willie related that he was “astounded by the individual attention given to each student, the complex workflow of producing sheet music into braille and large print, and that a major benefit of being a student at The Fil is that “students don’t have to pay extra for braille/large print music and they don’t have to acquire it on their own. They can concentrate on making music.”
The forced sequestering of us all due to the pandemic opened the door to a new kind of experiential exploration for FMDG Music School students. We could take the time to focus on dance, iconic ballets and the unique collaborations of choreographers and composers. The music was used as the entry point followed by guidance and instruction in dance steps. Each student received a package of items related to the ballet to help forge a connection to the subject or story of the ballet. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was the focus last semester, Copland/DeMille’s Rodeo is the subject this semester, and the next spotlight will be on Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. This new area of study has been an exciting addition to the curriculum of the FMDG Music School.
Upcoming 2021 Virtual Events

Saturday, June 5 at 1 pm: Spring CMPYP Recital

Saturday, June 5 at 7 pm: Presenting M. Leona Godin, Author of “There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness” in partnership with the Blind Writers Salon, at the Strand Book Store.

Wednesday, June 9 at 3 pm: A Conversation with Evelyn Glennie. A lively discussion with famed Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie. This event is open to FMDG Music School students only.

Friday, June 11 at 7 pm: Spring Adult Recital

Saturday, June 12: Webinar on Accessible Music Technology. Presented by Yo Kano, FMDG Music School faculty and Matthew Whitaker, jazz pianist and former FMDG Music School student. Produced by faculty member Pablo Rodriguez. (Time TDB, check our website for details)

Summer Session: July 6 through July 31: Individual lessons, braille music, music notation software for low vision users, and a host of mini-courses:

  • Ukulele Ensemble. All levels welcome. Teacher: Jon Price.
  • Performing Musical Theatre Rep. Teacher: Charlotte Surkin.
  • Managing Performance Anxiety. Teachers: Leslie Jones and Michelle Trovato
  • Try a New Wind Instrument! Teacher: Richard Thai
  • Revelations: Exploring the World of Alvin Ailey
  • Traveling Together, Near and Far. Field trips to various locations where music is integral to its culture or people. Please check our website for details about our virtual excursions.
  • Improv 101. Teacher: Richard Thai

Anticipated Back to School Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Philanthropy and You
2021 is off to a strong philanthropic start! During the first few months of 2021, The Fil staff, faculty, Board of Directors, and students have been working diligently to raise funds for the Music School. Individual donations, state funding, and support from foundations have been essential to the Music School’s continued success during 2021.

A big thank you to our FMDG Music School friends, supporters, and family for their efforts during the Performathon! We are in awe of the outpouring of support The Fil received during and after the March 21, 2021 event.

We are happy to announce that New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) has awarded The Fil two contracts for 2021-2022—one for Special Arts Services and one for Community Music Schools. 

Finally, it is with deep gratitude and pleasure that we announce that the Leonard and Robert Weintraub Foundation has awarded a generous grant of $75,000 to The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School. We are honored to carry on the work of the Weintraub brothers/philanthropists who valued the role that arts play in the lives of youth who are blind, visually impaired or disadvantaged.

If you have not yet made your donation supporting the FMDG Music School students, please consider making one now! Visit our website, https://www.fmdgmusicschool.org/donate, or mail a check to the School’s official address.  We thank you for helping us in our quest to thrive!

Checks may be made payable to:
The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School (FMDG Music School)
2130 Broadway, Suite 1904
New York, NY 10023