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Grammy-Nominated Musician Aims to Bring NYC's Music History to Classrooms

By Lisha Arino | November 24, 2014 7:39am
 Genji Siraisi started MOMENT NYC, which aims to teach the city's musical history to public school students.
Genji Siraisi started MOMENT NYC, which aims to teach the city's musical history to public school students.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

LOWER EAST SIDE — A Lower East Side musician wants New York City kids to know their roots.

Genji Siraisi, co-founder of the Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group Groove Collective, recently started MOMENT NYC, a visiting program that shares the city’s musical history through educational presentations and performances.

“One of the great things about New York is that we have so much culture here," he said. "[Music is] part of our culture and we should be celebrating that and enjoying it."

MOMENT NYC — which stands for the Meaning of Music and Entertainment in New York City — aims to cover a wide swath of aural history that includes traditional Lenape tribe music, Broadway musicals, salsa, jazz and hip-hop, Siraisi said.

As part of the program, local musicians visit schools to make the presentations more interactive and bring the music to life, he said. He plans to break up the curriculum into four age-appropriate levels.

During MOMENT’s first pilot presentation at P.S. 110, he chose to share “the ABCs of music history in New York” with a group of third, fourth and fifth graders, Siraisi said.

He talked about jazz and explained how Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” is meant to evoke a subway ride to Harlem. He also taught them about folk music and encouraged them to sing “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, which was written in New York. The program also covered salsa music, hip-hop and punk rock.

“They loved it,” Siraisi said. “When we played the swing, everyone was just up and loving it and when we played the salsa, obviously everyone was dancing. We played the Ramones’ ‘Rockaway Beach’ and it was like a full-on party all of a sudden.”

Older kids would get a more in-depth history lesson and explore the ways technology and industry influenced the city’s music scenes, he said.

Siraisi began thinking about music education two years ago, when his son was a kindergartner at P.S. 110. At the time, the school did not have a music program but it did have a room full of instruments, he said.

He soon realized that most music programs in the city focused on playing instruments, but few discussed history, much less the city’s various music scenes.

“That’s a foundation that has to be there, but to me also, part of really learning music is being exposed to it,” he said.

The program would also be a way to preserve the city’s cultural history and give local musicians employment opportunities, he said.

Siraisi also hopes to keep MOMENT as low-cost as possible. The P.S. 110 pilot program was funded through a crowdsourcing campaign, which raised $995, but he hopes future presentations will be funded through grants and private funding.

"I’m hoping that if we approach the right people, they’ll see the value in it. And if it means corporations attaching their names to something that they feel good about, that’s great,” he said.

MOMENT is still in development and Siraisi is reaching out to other musicians and teachers to help him with the program.

"My dream vision is that we have it going throughout the city," he said.

"That we’re bringing in these great musicians that are living here ... paying them well to come in and to demonstrate for the children what music is about."