Third Street Music School’s Valerie G. Lewis talks caroling, music education & more

by | Dec 20, 2016 | Downtown Living, Education, Family

Third Street Music School's Valerie Lewis

Third Street Music School’s Valerie Lewis

The Third Street Music School Settlement is the nation’s longest-running community music school, as founded in 1894. The school currently serves more than 5,000 students, many of whom through its Third Street Partners Program. Beyond its weekly after-school and Saturday music instruction, Third Street also offers classes in dance — ballet, hip-hop and tap — and early childhood arts activities. In turn, Third Street presents more than 200 free events each year.

One of those 200-plus events of 2016 was an epic Christmas caroling crawl, which took place around Union Square and the East Village on Dec. 15. More than 150 carolers participated, starting at Con Edison’s headquarters and finishing up at the St. Mark Church-In-The-Bowery garden. Downtown had the pleasure of speaking to Valerie G. Lewis, Executive Director of Third Street Music School Settlement about said caroling and plenty more. Beyond what’s discussed, Valerie is currently overseeing the final stage of a two-year, $5.5 million renovation of Third Street’s historic 32,000 square-foot home in the East Village.

More info on Valerie and the Third Street Music School Settlement can be found at The school can also be visited on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Where did the idea for neighborhood caroling come from for the Third Street group?

Valerie Lewis: Each year, Third Street hosts a variety holiday activities ranging from our annual Nutcracker performance showcasing our dance department to our Holiday Concert debuting our talented students. Two years ago we wanted to spread the holiday cheer with our newly established Voice Department. Led by our amazing Faculty Chair, Kaitlin Stark, our choristers will be caroling throughout the East Village and Union Square so we can stop by and say hello to our friends in the community who help make Third Street so great. From ConEd headquarters to Veniero’s bakery, we have families and students joining us for different parts of this choral holiday adventure.

Do you have a favorite carol?

VL: This is definitely a hard question since there are so many wonderful holiday carols and I certainly love them all. But this year, what warms my heart so much is hearing “Joy To The World.” It reminds me of how fortunate I am to be leading a great organization, such as Third Street, to help spread the joy of music in our community.

What about other music? Do you have a favorite album of 2016? Any upcoming concerts for you?

VL: The Hamilton Mixtape is an absolute must-listen. I’ve seen Hamilton several times now and it’s just terrific. The story, the music and the actors all are incredible. It’s great to see how young people have been inspired by Hamilton and how energized they are about musical theater.

Caroling aside, what’s coming up for the Third Street Music School Settlement?

VL: After the holiday excitement settles down, Third Street rings in the new year with our series of free performances and concerts. One of my favorites is our String ‘Stravaganza concert, where nearly 100 of our string students of all ages come together to debut their skills playing the violin, viola, cello and bass. We end the concert with the Suzuki-play down of Twinklers with everyone in our department — our youngest player of age four to our most senior age 88 joining in. We are also in the middle of our LiveSOUNDS series, which are free performances by faculty members every Friday at 7:00 PM throughout the school year.

What makes Third Street so special?

VL: Where do I begin? Third Street’s number one mission is to provide access to high-quality music and arts education to all people, no matter their financial situation. We do not turn anyone away. In fact, 75% of our students receive some form of tuition assistance and scholarships to help with their studies.

Another huge part of what makes Third Street so special is its Partnerships Program. Since the 1970s, Third Street has worked with underfunded public schools to provide music and arts instruction to their students. Today, we serve over 3,400 students in our Third Street Partners program in 28 New York City public schools and community centers. Professionally-trained Third Street faculty members head out to instruct weekly classes to students in voice, percussion and hip-hop dance. The goal of these partnerships is simple: to transform the lives of students for the better through music and dance.

When not busy with Third Street, how do you like to spend your free time?

VL: Third Street has become a family affair for me. I am a piano student here along with both my children who are taking voice and guitar. When I’m not at Third Street, I am also an avid cyclist, runner and pastry enthusiast.

Do you have a favorite restaurant near the school?

VL: Veselka and Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings without a doubt! These places are always happy to feed me and I’m always happy to be there. Every time I walk in, I can always spot a familiar face in the neighborhood.

Finally, Valerie, any last words for the kids?

VL: Take your time with the music. If at first you don’t succeed, remember to embrace the process. Don’t rush these moments because the beginning steps are the ones you’ll miss the most. Your first recital, your first dress rehearsal, your first solo. These moments are the building blocks in your artistic journey and what matters the most.

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