Thousands of Bronx kids receive free music education with the Harmony Program

Four- and 5-year-olds at P.S. 314 listen to their instructor, “Miss Sarah,” in their twice-weekly music ed class with the Harmony Program.
Photo Emily Swanson

In a bright, colorful classroom at Bronx P.S. 314, a group of 11 pre-K students gathered excitedly on the rug for what seemed like their favorite activity of the day: their twice-weekly music class. 

Instructor Sarah Mullins (“Miss Sarah”) led them in rhythm patterns by reciting “pear-pear-apple-pear” and “watermelon watermelon” while clapping and stomping. 

Next came a more advanced exercise. On a screen, the children followed along with quarter, eighth, half notes and rests that lit up karaoke-style. To learn the rhythms, they said “ta ta ti-ti ta” and other mnemonics. “Shhh” represented a rest. Students followed along adeptly, and it was clear they have practiced with Mullins many times.

These little ones are among thousands of Bronx kids who receive free music education thanks to the nonprofit Harmony Program, which recently expanded to 11 Bronx public schools. 

As kids go through the program throughout their school years, they can participate in choir, strings, percussion, brass or winds. Everything — including instruments — is free to students.

By starting kids as young as pre-K in music lessons, the hope is that they will stick with it through high school or even beyond, said Program Director Claudia Encinas during the Bronx Times’ visit to P.S. 314.

Encinas said that music education, especially in group settings, set young people up for success in all aspects of their lives. Their self-esteem, academic development, social and emotional skills are all improved by learning music in collaboration with others. 

Now, roughly 2,000 of the 3,000 kids in the Harmony Program are in Bronx schools — and the demand for music classes in the borough has skyrocketed to the point where program leaders hardly have to go looking for new sites. 

“To be honest, the schools have been approaching us,” she said. 

The Harmony Program was founded in 2003 and has expanded threefold just in the past few years. 

“The Harmony Program’s goal has always been creating greater access to music education across New York City,” founder Anne Fitzgibbon said in a statement. “Our expansion this year is an important step forward for us as we will be reaching thousands of new students in the Bronx and planting the seeds of future youth orchestras and ensembles.”

Students like those at P.S. 314 have many options if they choose to continue with music throughout their school years. Harmony Program offers after-school and Saturday programming, plus a summer camp — this year at the prestigious Juilliard School. And again, all of it is free.

Over the years, the Harmony Program has partnered with the New York Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and other prestigious ensembles and musicians. 

To see a preview of the upcoming summer camp at Juilliard, introductions to the various instruments students can learn within the program and much more, see the Harmony Program YouTube channel.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes