Ridgefield High musicians offer mentorships to peers

A Ridgefield High School student guides her fifth-grade violin mentee through a lesson over FaceTime.

A Ridgefield High School student guides her fifth-grade violin mentee through a lesson over FaceTime.

Contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — Although the pandemic has rattled everything from small businesses to school systems, it’s done little to halt students from making music in Fairfield County.

Orchestra students from Ridgefield High School have come together to create Ridgefield Music Mentors, a student-driven program dedicated to enhancing music education in town schools by developing connections with student role models.

For 20 minutes twice a month, Fairfield County’s string players offer their guidance to elementary and middle school pupils during virtual sessions. The program has drawn mentors from Ridgefield High School, Ridgefield Middle School Chamber Orchestra, Norwalk Youth Symphony, Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra and the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra.

Since December, Ridgefield Music Mentors has grown to enrich more than 200 of Ridgefield’s youngest string players.

“Being in a pandemic, I just felt that we weren’t able to [make] music as often,” said high school senior Anirudh Krishnan, the program’s founder. “I felt like younger people would have more difficulties than the ones I’m facing, as they are still learning the fundamentals.”

Krishnan also sought to create service opportunities for fellow high school students and engage them with younger members of their community. By doing so, the violinist hoped to grow a passion for music in both mentors and mentees — an effort that is rapidly coming to fruition.

“My students feel more motivated to learn and excel at their homework assignments because they have someone guiding them through it,” said Alexandria McGowan, an orchestra director at Ridgefield’s elementary schools. “The impact has been extremely positive overall.”

Also unique to the program is the way it establishes personal connections between mentors and mentees. Ridgefield string teacher Nate Wood said such relationships offer a different connection than those with adult teachers.

“These mentors have a unique ability to influence and encourage the younger students,” he said. “It really is such a special opportunity.”

Ridgefield High orchestra director Michael McNamara said, “I think this has been inspiring for everyone. The older kids are inspired to help others, and the younger students get some help and motivation. It’s wonderful.”

Middle school orchestra director Shane Peters agreed, saying, “It’s so great to see our whole program working together.”

Ridgefield Music Mentors has also made an impact beyond its mentors and mentees. The program raised more than $500 for Ridgefield Music Parents, an organization dedicated to supplementing music programs within the town’s public schools, and around $250 to aid vaccine research at Johns Hopkins University.

Krishnan and other mentors hope the program will grow and allow more high school students to share their gifts with young musicians.

Matthew Uy is a sophomore orchestra student at Ridgefield High School.