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City Strings seeks to end 2020 on a high note

After the pandemic forced City Strings United to cancel its spring recitals, including one at

Symphony Hall, the Roxbury-based children’s cello program hopes to end 2020 on a high


The nonprofit is recruiting new volunteers and is aiming to raise $10,000 in December. “We’d love to start with strength,” said Bithyah Israel, a professional cellist who founded the group eight years ago.

Bithyah Israel, the founder of City Strings United, taught cello virtually to a student who is part of the nonprofit music program that

usually rehearses at the Twelfth Baptist Church; COVID-19 has forced it to go virtual. JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

City Strings, based at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church, offers free cello lessons to kids

ages 5 to 18, most of whom are from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. The group relies

on charitable donations and grant funds to pay for music and instruments.

The cancellation of five spring concerts wiped out another key source of money. “We did not

have the opportunity to welcome our audience of supporters back, so our individual

donations took a big hit,” Israel said.

Israel hopes a new crop of volunteers and donors step up to help City Strings weather the

pandemic. “I see an opportunity for people who perhaps would be really interested in

getting involved with a really passionate organization where they can really feel like they’re

close to work,” she said.

Volunteers can help with networking and marketing opportunities. They can also attend concerts, or help provide refreshments, once in-person performances return. “There’s just a ton of ways that people can bring their expertise to help us fill in the gaps,” she said. College and high school students have a special role to play, Israel noted. College students have helped to teach kids. High schoolers can create music worksheets or promote City Strings on social media she said.

Israel said she hopes the support will enable the program to open a second site in Boston and begin recruiting students during the spring semester. “That does come with a need for support,” she said.

Since springtime, City String’s weekly rehearsals have been replaced with virtual lessons. Students are eager to return to in-person learning, she said.

“It’s taking some courage on the part of our students and instructors to continue with the upbeat approach and not to get bogged down by the uncertainty that the shutdown has brought,” she said.

Bithyah Israel is the founder of City Strings United. She was teaching her student Melvin Clark cello virtually. JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

Remote learning has allowed teachers to interact with students throughout the week, she said. They also continued offering classes throughout the summer.

“There are some pluses to this format,” she said. “We’re able to see and communicate with

our students during the week.”

Since 2012, the program has taught upward of 40 children, and 22 students are currently

enrolled, she said. Three students who joined the program in its first year now help teach

new young players.

“I feel as inspired by them as I think they feel inspired by the program,” she said.

The organization has adapted a grassroots model to attract new support, she said. They have

registered with Fidelity Charitable, an online gift fund. They’ve also created pamphlets to

communicate how people can help, and regularly updates its website.

Families have also been “campaigning” for donations by asking community members and

friends to support the program, she said.

“City Strings is rallying [to say] that we’re stronger than we were in 2012 or 2015,” Israel said. “But we are really in need of support so that we can open our doors to more students.”


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