June 8, 2021

BY Joe Malinconico


PATERSON — Yubelly Vasquez thought about moving her family far away from Paterson, to a place less dangerous.

But her daughters pleaded with her to stay in the city because they didn’t want to leave behind the Paterson Music Project (PMP).

Vasquez now considers the decision to remain in Paterson “a blessing” after her eldest daughter, Geanelly Vallecillo, and one of her fellow violists from the music program, Rachael Diaz, recently were picked to participate this summer in the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic Youth Orchestra National Festival.

The two 14-year-olds – both students at Passaic County Technical Institute – have been part of the PMP program for seven years. Inspired by the El Sistema movement that originated in Venezuela, PMP provides classical music instruction for children in low-income areas, with a focus on bringing social change through the arts.

The two girls now feel like sisters.

“From music, we kind of connected,” said Vallecillo. “It’s not something everybody can understand.”

Diaz talked about the bonds built from playing music together for so many years. She explained why music was so important to her. “Music is a way to express any emotion you might feel,” she said.

When students enter PMP, which is run through the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts, they must decide whether they want to learn to play the violin, viola or cello.

Vallecillo recalled trying the violin first. “It sounded so scratchy, I didn’t want to hear it anymore,” she said.

Diaz compared the instrument selection process to the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. “The violin was much too high and the cello was too low,” she said. “But the viola was just right.”

The two friends are PMP’s second and third musicians picked for the LA Philharmonic youth program. In 2018, Hector Otero of Paterson was selected. Vallecillo was among those picked for the chamber orchestra for musicians ages 12 to 14, while Diaz will be part of the symphony orchestra for ages 14 to 18.

The girls had to submit recordings of their playing for three to four minutes. Vallecillo said she went through about 20 takes before she was satisfied with her recorded performance. Diaz said she would just stop and start over again each time she struck a note that didn’t please. She called those scrapped attempts “half recordings.”

“If you count the half recordings, I probably did it about a million times,” Diaz said.

PMP Director Elizabeth Moulthrop said the selections were a testament to the Paterson students’ hard work and dedication. “They can do anything they put their minds to,” Moulthrop said.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, students picked for the program would travel to Los Angeles. But now it’s being done virtually. That didn’t seem to dampen the girls’ excitement. “This is such a great opportunity,” said Vallecillo.

The two girls attributed their musical succes to the support of their parents. Sometimes, they said, their Moms would roust them out of bed on Saturday morning, often giving them the nudge they needed to attend special music programs.

Vallecillo said her mother cries at every one of her performances.

“It makes me happy to see her happy,” the mother said, “To see them play in these huge concerts…it touches my heart.”

Original article can be found here.