(swipe courtesy of Blind I For The Kids)
Public School 37 is alive again with the sound of music – thanks to one gifted young boy.
For more than a year, the Queens elementary school went without a music program after its band teacher left and the school couldn’t afford a replacement. Now, the school has a thriving band that plays Ben E. King, Bow Wow and Bob Marley. And it’s directed by one of its students, an 11-year-old pianist and saxophone player who knew his classmates needed music in their lives. “Music makes this school more alive,” said sixth-grader Paul Sheriff, leader of the Cynthia Jenkins School Band. “The school is better with music in it.”
Administrators at the 600-student school in Jamaica say their hands were tied when the music teacher left last school year and they couldn’t pay for a new one. “Budget constraints,” said Principal Beverly Mitchell. “We didn’t have the money for it.” Staff reached out to parents, asking for a volunteer. No one came forward. In December, Paul started acting up as students lined up in the auditorium one morning. To keep him out of trouble, parent coordinator Joan Estick – remembering that Paul played the piano – told him to play the “Pledge of Allegiance.” It became a morning routine.
Within a few weeks, Paul asked if he and some friends could start a band. About a dozen kids meet at lunch and after school to practice a variety of songs, from R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” to Kevin Rudolf and Lil Wayne’s “Let It Rock.” Comprised of a piano, drums, trumpet, sax and other instruments, the band has performed at a districtwide concert at nearby PS 147 and the school’s multicultural festival. Next up is career day and graduation.
“To see him doing this is a wonderful thing,” said Assistant Principal Cheryl Jones. “It adds dimension to the school.” Paul’s mom, Molly Sheriff, believes music has been a comfort to her son since his father died of cancer three years ago. Now a single mom of five, Sheriff splurged on a piano so their home would be filled music.
“Music is a wonderful thing,” she said. “It soothes the soul and comforts the heart.” Though Paul took classes for a year, his primary exposure to music now is in school and at churches, where he plays at services and weddings. Sitting on the piano bench during a recent rehearsal, with his vest open and the strap of his saxophone loose around his neck, Paul looks cool and relaxed, like he belongs in a swank piano lounge. With his long fingers, he strikes the first few unmistakable keys from “Lean On Me,” and classmate Kenneth Savage jumps in to accompany him.
Kenneth, 11, hadn’t displayed any interest in music until he came to the school and joined the band two months ago. He took so quickly to the guitar that his mother scrimped to buy a used one and happily listens to him practice at night. “He stays off the video games,” said Kenya Savage, his mom.
As much as staff and students love the band, they know it might be short-lived – Paul will graduate from the school this year. Administrators are hoping to have a more formal program by fall, but, until then, Paul will try to teach some of the younger kids how to carry on.
“When you’re a little kid, you’re not old enough and people don’t always listen,” he said. “I’m glad I did it so maybe they can try to get more music back in here.”
For information about how to help, please contact PS 37 principal Beverly Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or New York Daily News reporter Carrie Melago at email@example.com .