Opus 118 Harlem School of Music is a non-profit, community music school dedicated to providing quality music education at little or no cost to the families of Harlem. We serve over 700 children a year through our In-School, After-School, and Community Programs Initiatives.
In 1991, 150 kids in three East Harlem public elementary schools were about to lose their cherished violin program as a result of budget cuts. Working with parents, other teachers and volunteers, their violin teacher, Roberta Guaspari, founded Opus 118 Harlem School of Music, a private, nonprofit organization, to save the program and to continue to serve public school students in low-income areas.
Violinist Arnold Steinhardt, impressed by what he witnessed in these Harlem music classes, engaged colleagues Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern to organize Fiddlefest, a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall to keep the violin program alive. Not only did this first concert shine a bright light on Opus 118, it became the first in a series of Fiddlefests with acclaimed musicians such as Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, and Mark O'Connor joining the Harlem students in performance.
Roberta Guaspari’s passionate struggle to keep music instruction alive in Harlem's public schools has inspired two films: Small Wonders, a 1996 documentary produced by Susan Kaplan and directed by Allan Miller, and Miramax’s 1999 feature film, Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep; both films received Academy Award nominations. The New York City Schools Chancellor restored funds for Ms. Guaspari and for two more Opus violin teachers. Today, Opus 118 serves four New York City public schools.
In 2002, Opus 118 Harlem School of Music expanded on the success of its internationally recognized In-School Music Program and established a comprehensive community music school currently located at 103 East 125th Street in Harlem. Through this community music school, Opus 118 can meet the needs of this fast-growing and underserved community by offering opportunities for New York City public school students to obtain one-on-one and ensemble instruction after school, offering access to music education for children who may not have music programs in their schools at all, and offering instruction for adults who want to learn a musical instrument or advance their musical skills. In addition to Opus 118's traditional violin program, the expanded curriculum includes viola, cello, piano, guitar, chorus and early childhood music education.
Opus 118 Harlem School of Music expanded its reach even further in 2008 by creating the Community Programs Initiative which partners Opus 118 with local communities, organizations and schools to bring music classes and performances to even more people in the community. Opus 118 students play for local hospitals and special events while the faculty brings music education to after-school programs and early childhood music education to Head Start Programs.
What started in one Harlem classroom now affects thousands of children, here in New York and in other cities around the world that have taken inspiration from the Opus 118 story.