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Silence Threatens Harlem's Sound of Music

The clatter of wheels rolling along the tracks at the 125th Street station is muted by the strains of a dozen violins in a seventh floor room of an adjacent building. A group of Harlem teenagers is attending a weekly music class at a legendary music center that is being threatened with closure unless it can raise some much needed funds.

Opus 118 was founded 19 years ago by teacher Roberta Guaspari, after the city eliminated music programs in three Harlem schools. Her inspiring story to bring music into the lives of inner city kids was brought to the screen in the Oscar nominated film "Music of the Heart" starring Meryl Streep, who portrayed the indominatable Guaspari.

The music fills the room as the teacher leads her students. "The music helps build character," Guaspari she says, adding, "It also gives them self-esteem and a chance to focus, to solve problems, and not to give up."

About 700 youngsters are currently enrolled in music classes, which provide lessons in violin, piano, viola, cello, as well as singing. About two-thirds of the schools income comes from private donors. Federal arts grants provide the rest. With private donations down 25% this year, the school needs $500,000 by the end of June or else it won't be able to resume classes in the fall.

11-year-old Sarah Sackeyfio tells PIX 11 News playing the violin makes her happy.

"I feel accomplished that I have been able to master it." Josh Kelly Kapaj says coming to music classes is a lot better than "hanging out on the street corner or sitting at home being bored."

Garnet Hallett's says she's seen a change in her 12-year-old daughter since she began playing the violin.

"The music has made her more outgoing. She's more responsible," she claims.

Roberta Guaspari bursts with pride over her students, insisting the music "makes them feel good about themselves." Many of the hundreds of students who have passed through the school over the years, have gone on to study at the prestigious Julliard or Berkley School of Music. Jazz great Wynton Marsalis and violinist Itzhak Perlman are members of the school's advisory board.

Opus 118 is a program that opened the eyes of inner city kids to music. And its the music of the heart from generous New Yorkers who they hope will keep the music going.

The Opus 118 Harlem School of Music is located at 103 E 125th Street, New York, NY 10035.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun