Music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, in the forging of values and in the training of youngsters to teach others.

— Jose Antonio Abreu, founder, El Sistema

This is the most rewarding musical project in my life; I imagine that ONE Strings will have potent long-term ramifications for those students’ lives.

—Soovin Kim, Festival Artistic Director

The Integrated Arts Academy (IAA) at the H.O. Wheeler School is an arts magnet school, one of six public elementary schools in Burlington. The school has 300 K-5 students from 23 countries, speaking 30 languages. ONE (Old North End) Strings provides in-schools strings instruction and related activities for students at the school, seeking to eliminate traditional barriers to instrument instruction. The program is inspired by El Sistema, a worldwide educational movement that has been called “the future of music.”

In a typical year, all 4th and 5th graders at IAA have group violin lessons twice a week for 20 weeks with violin teachers Kathleen Kono and Rachel Keyser. All 3rd graders have a 6-week introduction to strings in the spring. Soovin Kim, LCCMF Co-Artistic Director, often visits the school, and our Resident Ensemble and participants in our Young Composer Seminar also make frequent classroom visits. This program has been made possible thanks to a series of grants from the Vermont Community Foundation and the Amy B. Tarrant Foundation, as well as the support of private donors and of the school’s PTO.


The 2019-20 academic year was the seventh year of ONE Strings (and the year that our very first ONE Strings students graduated from high school). IAA closed in-person learning in March 2020, cutting off the last 3 weeks of the 4th and 5th grade programs and cancelling the 3rd grade program. In September students returned to school on a 2-day-per-week schedule, which didn’t leave enough time during the school day for ONE Strings instruction.

By November, the school district decided to move to 4 days per week of instruction, and we began planning with the IAA staff for a strings program that could be safe and inclusive for everyone. As a result, we started a compressed ONE Strings program in January 2021. That consisted of 6 weeks of in-person instruction once per week for all 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. This is testimony to the value the classroom teachers place on ONE Strings – that they are willing to give up instruction time when it is so extraordinarily precious!

In the winter of 2020, students at IAA had wonderful sessions with LCCMF former resident ensemble member Rebecca Anderson and her cellist partner Alan Richardson. This 3-part Zoom series supplements the strings program at this critical time.

As of fall 2021, IAA is open for in-person learning with masking required for all students and staff, and protocols to return to virtual learning for intervals in the case of a COVID exposure. 4th and 5th graders at IAA will receive 16 weeks of string instruction, and all 3rd graders will have a 6-week introduction to strings in the spring.

What is El-Sistema?

El Sistema is a new model for social change, with music at its heart. In a parking garage in Caracas 46 years ago, Dr. José Antonio Abreu gathered together 11 children to play music. El Sistema was born. It now teaches music to 500,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children, demonstrating the power of ensemble music to dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s youth while transforming the communities around them. Drawing on the work done by many El Sistema-inspired organizations, we are building a program that is uniquely suited to the Integrated Arts Academy and to the school’s diverse community in the Old North End of Burlington.

The Role of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival

The staff and board of the Festival are deeply committed to ONE Strings as a key part of our mission to inspire a passion for chamber music by encouraging and providing educational programs for schoolchildren.

Thank you!

Many thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation, the Landmann Family Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation, Valerie Graham, Jody Kebabian, the school’s PTO, and our generous donors for helping to make this project possible. Thanks to Kathy Reilly and Vermont Violins for instrument rentals and to the PTO at IAA for a grant to pay for the rentals.