Eliana Ramirez (not her real name) was enrolled in Harmony Project by her mom at the age of thirteen, when she was released from a juvenile detention center where she had been remanded for drug use and fighting. Eliana’s mom hoped that Harmony Project would keep Eliana busy and help her stay out of trouble. The strategy worked. Eliana became so deeply engaged in learning to play the violin within Harmony Project that she rose to become Concertmaster of one of our most advanced orchestras.
When Eliana graduated from high school, she enrolled at a California State University where she majored in Spanish Language and Literature. She was a first generation college student. Later, she was thrilled when she learned that her application had been accepted and she would be able her to spend her junior year of college in Santiago, Chile, attending one of that country’s most highly rated universities. Language would not be a problem. Eliana’s parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico before she was born and Spanish was her first language.
Eliana thrived in her demanding program at the university in Chile. But despite her careful planning, by the middle of the first semester of her (year-long) program, she was nearly out of money. There had been fees and costs that she hadn’t anticipated. She was already living on ramen noodles. It was clear that the funds she had left would not last the semester, let alone the year.
She didn’t have anyone she could ask for help. Eliana’s parents had no savings. They struggled to pay their own bills.
What could she do?
Eliana picked up her violin and began to play pieces she knew by heart. Playing always calmed her whenever she felt frazzled. She was grateful that Harmony Project had gifted her with the instrument when she graduated from high school – and from the program. She didn’t know what she would do without it. Her violin felt like her closest friend.
After she had played for a while, Eliana had a thought. She put her violin away, dressed warmly, fixed her hair and left her dorm, carrying her violin in its case. She went straight to a subway station near the financial district.
At the station, Eliana selected a busy spot, opened her case, took out her violin, said a quiet prayer – and began to play. She played the same pieces that she played to calm herself whenever she felt upset or was having a difficult day.
People stopped to listen. Many put money into her open case. Eliana earned enough money that day to cover her expenses for the next two weeks. She returned to play her violin at that subway station two or three times a week for the remainder of her stay in Chile. Not only did she earn enough to cover the expenses of her year in Chile, she also earned enough to travel throughout South America on her breaks from school.
The dedication, creativity and resilience that Eliana had developed within Harmony Project enabled her to realize her dream and to complete her program in Chile.
When Eliana returned to California, she completed a BA in Spanish Language and Literature. She has since completed an additional year of foreign study in Mexico as the recipient of a Fulbright award.
Eliana was recently accepted into a PhD program in linguistics at a prominent California university. She looks forward to teaching and to conducting research as a professor of Spanish Language and Linguistics. She also hopes to serve as a role model and mentor for young Latinas who may have had difficult early lives, such as her own.
Margaret Martin, MPH, DrPH
Dr. Martin is the Founder of Harmony Project, a national music-based mentoring program that has won multiple major awards. She is also a Director of Harmony Project National Division, which helps cities and school districts launch successful Harmony Project programs in low-income communities throughout the U.S. Dr. Martin is the mother of three adult children.