Mentor passes musical passion on to kids

Jazz musician Dr. Valerie Capers performed with Bronx preteens to celebrate the Bronx Children’s Museum’s sixth anniversary.

Dr. Valerie Capers accompanies students from PS 11 and 55 at
Dr. Valerie Capers accompanies students from PS 11 and 55 at this year’s Dream Big event for the Bronx Children’s Museum.

Second, third graders highlight Bronx Children’s Museum annual show

Jazz educator and Bronxite Dr. Valerie Capers was five years old the first time she heard the music of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky over the radio. It was on a hot day in Long Island during the 1930s while she was visiting family friends. The melody she heard that day would inspire her lifelong pursuits as a musician and music educator.

“I’m five years old and that music touched me,” Capers said. “There was something in it that hit my immature baby soul.”

The Bronx Children’s Museum honored Capers’ achievements as an educator, as part of its sixth annual Dream Big Day ceremony on July 23 at Fordham University’s McGinley Center. Most recently, Capers has taught music performance and appreciation to second and third grade children from Bronx PS 55 and PS 11, through the museum’s Dream Big program. Now in its sixth year, Dream Big was originally established to help students appreciate music, dance and the visual arts.

Fellow honorees and Bronxites who addressed the children included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and actress Sonia Manzano, better known as Maria on Sesame Street. Manzano said that one thing she learned on the set of the children’s program over the years is that kids don’t need to be given all the answers.

“You can practice winning by making small dreams,” Manzano said. “When the big dream comes along, it’ll be a piece of cake because you will know what winning feels like.”

When it came time for the students to show their abilities, they joined Dr. Capers for a rendition of jazz tunes they learned with her in the program.

PS 55’s principal Luis Torres said he attended the event to support his students, as well as the Bronx Children’s Museum. He pointed out that Dream Big has not only taught his students about the arts, it has also benefited them academically.

“The program helps them become better at school and makes them view it as a fun place where they can show off their talents,” Torres said.

Dr. Capers said the lack of arts programs in the Bronx has fueled her interest in teaching the beauty of music to young people.

“These kids are bereft of (music).They don’t know anymore about Ellington or Beethoven, Count Basie or Bach,” she said. “All I want is for them to be exposed to various kinds of music and enjoy it.

Dr. Capers lost her sight when she was six, but remained passionate about studying music long after becoming the first blind person to earn a Master’s Degree from Juilliard. During her time working with the Dream Big children, she said, she recounted anecdotes about the challenges blindness posed for her as she studied to become a professional musician.

Because this year’s event coincided with the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act, it was natural for the Bronx Children’s Museum to honor Dr. Capers’s for her lifetime achievements, said the event’s organizer Nicole Wallace.

“We like to focus on local things that will teach (the kids) about themselves and make them proud of being from the Bronx,” Wallace said.

The Bronx Children’s Museum is currently raising funds for exhibition space and will officially open in 2017. To learn more, click on their website at http://www.bronxchildrensmuseum.org/#!.