Carnegie Hall Link Up Music Education Program Transforms Elementary Students’ Lives

Music teacher, Marlene Camacho, supports her students in playing their recorders at the Youth Concert at the Mello Center in Watsonville.
Music teacher, Marlene Camacho, supports her students in playing their recorders at the Youth Concert at the Mello Center in Watsonville.

It was a cold, clear February morning, as we walked into the Kaiser Permanente Arena and beheld the Santa Cruz Symphony and Youth Symphony starting to tune their instruments. The first school buses arrived from Ohlone, Main Street, Bonny Doon, Westlake, Bayview, Vine Hill, San Lorenzo Valley, Soquel, and Valencia Elementary Schools. Fourth and fifth graders from across the county carried recorders and ukuleles. A few students with guitars and one student with his cello entered the huge arena. Everyone was seated and a hush settled over the 1500 students. The narrators began the concert by inviting the students to sing, move, and play their instruments along with the Symphony – shouting, “Join us as the Orchestra Rocks!” The opening piece, Anvil Chorus by Verdi, never sounded so sweet as approximately 800 students played along with their recorders.

Santa Cruz High School Drumline impresses the students, teachers and families at the Link Up Concert!
Santa Cruz High School Drumline impresses the students, teachers and families at the Link Up Concert!


This was a very special year for our county as the Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s (SCCOE) educational partnership with the Santa Cruz Symphony expands with this new program, Link Up. When Lee Duffus, board member and education chair, was invited by Carnegie Hall to come see the Youth Concert for the Link Up program, he could not have predicted the turnout on Tuesday. After Lee saw the concert and learned about the program, he invited the SCCOE to help develop the program. Early in the school year, Diane Bock and Audrey Sirota recruited and introduced the Link Up program to thirty teachers. These devoted teachers began teaching the selections to their students though song, movement and instruments. Through the generous support of Michael Watkins and Rowland Rebele, we were able to provide 1000 recorders to our county’s 4th and 5th grade students. Since this was our pilot year, some of our teachers opted to teach the songs and movements. One of the most memorable moments of the concert occurred when Megan McElroy’s 250 students moved in unison with their hand gestures to the folk song embedded in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, In the Field Stood a Birch Tree. Two hundred arms went up simultaneously as the students moved along rhythmically to the selection. It was so practiced and eye-catching that Maestro Daniel Stewart looked over and praised their amazing work with a nod of his head and a huge smile.

Students play their ukuleles along with the Santa Cruz Symphony.
Students play their ukuleles along with the Santa Cruz Symphony.

Carnegie Hall’s Link Up music education program now reaches almost half a million students and teachers worldwide including in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Kenya, Puerto Rico, and Spain. It is a music program that transforms students’ lives as it offers on-going, sequential, standards-based music instruction. We know that these types of programs support students in achieving higher rates of academic, social-emotional, and artistic success, graduation, and civic responsibility. What an honor for Santa Cruz County to be part of this journey!