Jennifer Calderon is never far from the sights and sounds of music. The sixth-grader is in the chamber chorus and plays the baritone horn at Copiague Middle School. But she has grown to love her latest musical endeavor with a stiff, wooden, four-stringed instrument no taller than 4 feet.
“It’s like my best friend,” Jennifer, 12, said of her cello, which she began playing in January 2014 as part of a D’Addario & Co. program that brought a string instrument program to the district after a more than 30-year absence.
Farmingdale-based D’Addario & Co. is the world’s largest manufacturer of guitar strings. The company —which last year had $174 million in sales — also makes strings for cellos, violins, and just about any other instrument that uses them, along with drum heads and other music accessories in three buildings in East Farmingdale and Melville.
The company’s nonprofit D’Addario Foundation was created 35 years ago to make music education more accessible by providing grants — mostly to community-based nonprofits, but in some cases to needy public schools — for various forms of music education and instruction programs, including string instruments. Together with the company’s James D’Addario Family Foundation and its partner, the Harmony Program, the Long Island Lesson Program was brought to third- through sixth-graders in the Copiague school district.
Together with the company’s James D’Addario Family Foundation and its Harmony Program, the Long Island Lesson Program was brought to third- through sixth-graders in the Copiague school district.
“It’s a commitment to the community and a commitment to music education,” said Suzanne D’Addario Brouder, 43, executive director of the D’Addario Foundation.
D’Addario Brouder said the nonprofit reached out to Copiague schools in 2013 after the company found that many D’Addario employees live in Copiague and have children in the district’s schools. The nonprofit found that in addition to Copiague’s four elementary schools not having had string programs in more than 30 years, 70 percent of the district’s pupils qualify for free or reduced lunch — traits befitting the foundation’s mission to select schools where many of the kids’ parents cannot afford instruments.
The program starts in October and ends in mid-June. It is administered through a contract with the Manhattan-based Harmony Program, which has 13 similar operations throughout the city, and is modeled after the Venezuelan El Sistema instrument instruction program, with a focus on intensive training and ensemble performance.
About 20 students in the program receive two hours of after-school music education three days a week. They are given instruments donated by D’Addario and are bused to practices at Copiague’s Susan E. Wiley Elementary School.
“Usually, you only have 40 minutes with students,” said Katelyn Odierna, 22, of Sayville, who has taught the second-year violin students since January. “It gives you a lot more time to form a bond with the students and fine-tune a bunch of the issues. You can build lasting relationships with the students.”
The D’Addario Foundation has so far spent about $250,000 on the program.
“We really believe that music has the extraordinary ability to improve their cognitive and social development,” said D’Addario Brouder.
‘THIS OPENS DOORS’
Cynthia M. Florio, principal at Wiley, said the D’Addario program has given students the chance to “brighten their futures” by exposing them to playing the instruments.
“They thoroughly enjoy it and the parents are super-excited,” Florio said, adding that she is happy to see the students learn about responsibility, dedication and perseverance.
Among the program’s 20 students, 12 are violin players, four play the viola and four the cello.
When students join the program, they fill out an application and choose a preferred instrument and a backup, said Geoffrey Stone, 38, a Seaford resident who is the program’s lead instructor. (The program provides music teachers, as well.) He teaches the cello players while Kelly Flynn, 26, of Commack, instructs the program’s third-year violin and viola players.
Stone said the students warmed to their instruments right away.
“I’ve never seen a child afraid of a musical instrument in my life,” he said. “They are so eager to get their hands on the instrument and start playing with them. It’s like a new toy.”
Kiara Nieto, 11, a fourth-grader at Deauville Gardens East Elementary School who plays the viola, said she likes how the instruments sound together and has made friends in the past 2 ½ years. Her favorite tune is “Dragon Slayer” by Rob Grice, which was played at the program’s June 8 recital.
“It has a nice tone to it,” Kiara said. “There are parts that are strong and smooth and there are other parts where it’s soft and quiet.”
Her family is proud that she has stayed with the program.
“I always explain to her that people have to pay for private lessons” to get the same kind of training, said Kiara’s mother, Silvia Nieto. “I am very happy with how they treat them and how patient they are.”
Jennifer, the cello player, recently won a scholarship from the D’Addario’s Charitable Works Committee to attend the Usdan Summer Arts Camp in Wheatley Heights.
“When people ask me what I want to do when I grow up, I tell them, ‘I want to be a musician in every aspect,’ ” Jennifer said.
Florio said these kinds of developments wouldn’t have been possible without the D’Addario family.
“Thank you, thank you, D’Addario Foundation,” she said. “Without their support, our students wouldn’t be part of this program. They are tapping talents that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, or they would have to do it when they are older. This opens doors.”
The company and the foundation have opened doors for many people over the years in their various incarnations.
When Charles D’Addario came from Italy in 1904 with his brother-in-law Rocco, they started by importing strings and worked out of their home in Jackson Heights, Queens. Eventually, they moved to a factory in Astoria.
“When we started in Astoria . . . we had quite a few Colombian, Dominican, Honduran and some Puerto Rican employees, but for some reason there was a core of Dominican families and they lived in Brooklyn and Queens,” said D’Addario CEO Jim D’Addario, Charles’ grandson and the son of John D’Addario, who took over the business.
John and his son, John Jr., sold the company in 1969 to Martin Guitar. The family decided to break out on its own again in 1973 and moved to a 2,000-square-foot storefront in Lynbrook. By 1974, the first D’Addario-branded strings were introduced. Before that, the company made strings for private labels.
“My grandfather and my father were mainly what you would call a job shop,” said Jim D’Addario. “They would make strings for guitar makers like D’Aquisto, D’Angelico or Martin or Guild or Fender, so on.”
With the move to Lynbrook, employees followed. D’Addario’s workforce totals about 800 people, including several generations of the founding family and employees’ kin. “One or two had vans, and they would drive people out,” D’Addario said. “And that kind of mushroomed and mushroomed, and eventually they started buying or renting homes here in Amityville and Copiague, Deer Park and around here on the South Shore. Now, the lion’s share of our people come from pretty close by.”
That includes manufacturing manager Miledys Espinal, 47, of Lindenhurst, who came from the Dominican Republic in 1991 and started as a machine operator at D’Addario, where her mother-in-law worked in packing. Espinal now oversees 600 people across three shifts.
“I really took the opportunity they gave to me,” she said. “They provided me training” and paid for English classes at Suffolk County Community College, Espinal added. “When you work for D’Addario, you can buy a car, you know that you have job security.”
Espinal’s brother, Jose Ferriera, is an assistant supervisor who has worked at the company for more than 15 years. Espinal also has nephews and nieces who work at D’Addario.
Cellist Jennifer Calderon’s mother, Marta, also is at the company, along with the girl’s grandmother and an aunt.
D’Addario’s own Generation 4, as they are called, includes eight direct D’Addario descendants or in-laws, including company president John D’Addario III. Two Generation 5 members will soon be summer interns.
Jim D’Addario said the company has a family business counselor, an annual “state of the company” retreat and that all of the children involved in the family business meet for dinner once a month to discuss issues and ideas.
The D’Addario Foundation, established in 1981, initially was set up to support classical guitar performance concerts and morphed into a nonprofit focused on music education, Jim D’Addario said.
“Now it’s 90 percent music education,” he said. “We’d love to be able to do more. Last year, we donated a little over $1 million in grants and product donations through the foundation through the education programs. We are now trying to fundraise so that we can supplement and do more with these pilot programs. But we need to create a formula where we have agreement with the school systems . . . to say we are going to come in to fund this for five to 10 years and after the fifth year we start weaning you off the funding.”
SUPPORTING MUSIC EDUCATION
D’Addario Brouder said the foundation’s proposal for Copiague was originally turned down by the superintendent’s office, but that the foundation offered a three-year commitment that included running the program out of the D’Addario facility in the first year. The next year, the district agreed to use an elementary school to host the program, which now serves fourth-through-sixth-graders.
“There are some bright lights at the school level, particularly supportive principals and assistant and associate principals that have embraced the program and see the amazing things the students in this program are achieving,” D’Addario Brouder said.
Without any other outside support, the nonprofit foundation is committed to the Long Island Lesson Program in Copiague through the next school year, D’Addario Brouder said.
Hofstra University’s music program has proposed that D’Addario start a program in the Roosevelt school district like the one offered in Copiague, and that graduate students earn course credit for teaching students. But that’s “in the very early stages,” D’Addario Brouder said.
This summer, the foundation will offer practice sessions three days a week from July 12 to Aug. 25. Stone said students will perform chamber music in small ensembles of two to four students and that a recital will be held when the sessions end.
To have a successful program, parents need to be supportive and encourage their children to practice, while teachers need to take into consideration that it’s a long day for the students, who go to lessons after being in class for most of the day, said instructor Flynn. She arranged the version of “Largo” by Antonin Dvorak that her students played at the program’s June 8 recital.
Flynn said she keeps them motivated by turning lessons into games. “They actually enjoy learning about music theory,” she said, laughing.
Stone said it’s important to get to know the students.
“With kids this age, it’s really about pacing and variety,” he said. “There’s a balance between discipline and fun. I guess you can say respect. When kids have respect, everything goes well. And these kids are very respectful.”
Legacy is a concept spoken about often in the halls of D’Addario & Co. John D’Addario Jr., vice chairman of the board of directors and D’Addario Brouder’s father, said the benchmark for success in the Long Island Lesson Program is seeing the students seek a higher education.
“We think that the music education is an integral part of the reason why they do,” he said.
Flynn echoed others’ sentiments about another program element to consider, which mimics the business culture at D’Addario.
“You can see how it affects their lives,” she said of the music. “It’s an outlet. It’s kind of like a family.”
A really fun one, according to Stiven Cruz Santana, 10, a fifth-grader at Deauville Gardens West Elementary. He has played cello in the Long Island Lesson Program since January 2015 and said it has sparked a greater interest in music and expanded his circle of friends.
“When I’m with the group, we are all enthusiastic, fun and happy,” Stiven said.