History and Operations
As a program in the Phillips Brooks House Association, HARMONY (Harvard and Radcliffe Musical Outreach to Neighborhood Youth) Mentoring reflects PBHA’s dedication to social service through music. HARMONY Mentoring provides instrumental and vocal instruction for children in the Cambridge Public Schools in order to foster musical appreciation that supplements the musical education they receive in school. HARMONY Mentoring serves needy children who would especially benefit from musical exposure. For volunteers, this program offers the chance to serve as both a big sibling and a music teacher to enthusiastic and inquisitive elementary, middle, and high school students. Through one-on-one and group musical interaction with children ranging in age from 4-18, HARMONY mentors help younger students improve their musical skills, and more importantly, nourish a sense of self-respect, accomplishment, responsibility, and joy through music.
HARMONY was founded in 1992 as part of the Winthrop House HAND program, operating initially at Tobin Elementary School. In 1993, HARMONY came under the auspices of Phillips Brooks House and had 20 volunteers teaching music to students at Tobin. In 1994, HARMONY expanded to include Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, and also organized its first student recital during the ARTS FIRST weekend in the spring. The success and popularity of the recital among students, parents, and volunteers prompted the program to hold the recital annually, and eventually led to the addition of another annual recital in December. These recitals provide for students a well-defined goal, as well as an opportunity to perform in front of an audience. All students are encouraged to participate in the recitals to share the results of their hard work with parents, teachers, and friends. In 1995, overwhelming enthusiasm led to the addition of a summer program. During the summer, HARMONY fosters music appreciation without the constraints of musical instruments. Volunteers interact with children participating in PBHA Summer Urban Programs to introduce them to the world of music.
After a brief period during which HARMONY did not run, from 2004 to 2006, HARMONY was brought back to life in the fall of 2007 by senior Catherine Vaughan. After the December recital was canceled due to winter weather, the year culminated in a fantastic Final Recital the following May. In May of 2012, the fifth annual student recital featured 12 performances by the mentees.
Harvard presents a unique environment of a high percentage of students with a musical background, and for volunteers, HARMONY offers a unique experience of applying musical talent in a new way. Many undergraduates have taken years of musical instruction; yet, they may not feel that they have the time or ‘virtuoso’ to play in Harvard’s orchestras. Through HARMONY, these talents are channeled back into the community; as a teacher, Harvard mentors can spark the interest of a young child and revive their personal joy of music. No other Harvard organization targets musical education and the emotional and mental stimulation that HARMONY provides.
The operation of HARMONY is overseen by its board of officers, which is composed entirely of Harvard students. HARMONY provides its volunteers with a training session at the beginning of each term to give advice on teaching strategies, to brainstorm methods, and to discuss the importance of what the volunteers do above and beyond musical instruction. To ensure that the program is addressing its target of social education and service, mentors are asked to fill out evaluation sheets throughout the year. These evaluations give feedback on the progress of the program, and give all participants the opportunity to express their thoughts.
Currently, HARMONY Mentoring has about 50 mentors. We are always eager to have new volunteers and mentees and look forward to continuing outreach!