A neighborhood outreach program in its ninth year
The West Side Connection, recipient of the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award, enables the BPO to reach out to its neighbors on the diverse West Side of Buffalo. Through educational activities, guest artist visits and a culminating concert, this project involves students in the 12 Buffalo Public schools in the neighborhood of Kleinhans, including three Spanish bilingual schools, a Native American magnet school and three international schools serving the West Side population of recent and past immigrants from diverse countries. Exploring diversity under the umbrella of music — a theme uniting all cultures across the globe — allows us to address relevant social issues through an exciting and educational medium.
Hundreds of refugees arrive in Western New York each year from countries all over the world through the US Refugee Resettlement Program. Many of those refugees settle in Buffalo, and a large percentage of them live on the West Side in the neighborhoods surrounding Kleinhans Music Hall. Over half of the refugees arriving each year are from Asia, specifically from Burma and Bhutan. The next largest ethnic group arriving is from Africa; the third largest is from Iraq and Iran in the Middle East. There is also a well-established Puerto Rican community on the West Side. The West Side Connection was developed in response to the growth of these populations and through a desire to make an authentic connection with our international community through the powerful entry point of music.
Each year, the program features collaborations with local and national organizations. Past guest artists include the young winners of the Sphinx Competition, a national competition for Black and Latino string players; the Dance and Drum Company from the African American Cultural Center; dancers from the Latin American Institute, Burmese community choir from the International Institute; Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra; Atlanta Symphony assistant conductor Joseph Young; Toronto percussion ensemble TorQ Percussion Quartet; B-boy Shane Dupree Fry of Verve Dance Studio and Druminar which provides interactive drum experiences in Latin and African traditions.
In addition to the students served directly by the program, for the last four years, the final concert has been shared with many thousands of students across Western New York through a live web streaming broadcast. This year’s concert is featured in the BPO Broadcast On Demand.