The charity finding harmony in making classical music accessible to all

Driven by the belief that classical music is not merely a remnant of a bygone era, Arohanui Strings has been teaching youth around the Wellington region the joy of music for more than a decade. 

The charity provides free music tuition to children who might not otherwise get the chance to learn a classical instrument, based on the idea that everyone has the right to a musical education, regardless of their social or economic background.  

Arohanui Strings is one of the inspiring charities chosen to take part in Z Energy's (Z) Good in the Hood campaign for 2023. Good in the Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood.  

Abbie Bull, Head of Sustainability and Community at Z, said it’s great to be able to help young people access music lessons through supporting Arohanui Strings. “It’s awesome to see how groups like Arohanui Strings making a difference to their community by providing free music lessons to children and we feel really lucky to have them as one of the charities on board for Good in the Hood this year”. 

"We just try and make music education as accessible as possible to those that we're able to reach," says Margaret Guldborg, Arohanui Strings' programme director. 

"There's this misconception that violin or classical music is just for the Western elite or the wealthy" says Guldborg. "But really it's rich in diversity and it's just such a joy to play." 

Arohanui Strings was founded in 2010 by Alison Eldredge, an American violinist living in Wellington who believed all children have the right to a musical education. She was inspired by an initiative called El Sistema, an idea originating in Venezuela during the 1970s that sought to provide children living in high-deprivation neighbourhoods access to classical music lessons, using music as a vehicle for social change. 

Originally, Arohanui Strings began in just one classroom - at St Michael's School in Taita - with a handful of students practising mainly on cardboard violins. Since then at least 4,000 children in some of Wellington and Hutt Valley's most economically challenged communities have received musical tuition, with over 300 students currently taking part. 

Now, it not only has real violins, it also has cellos, violas and double basses, with the charity soon set to expand to teach woodwind and brass instruments too, becoming "Arohanui Strings Plus". 

The charity offers a range of after-school and holiday programmes for children aged six to 18 across Lower Hutt/Wainuiomata and Wellington City, as well as a number of in-school classes. And although the organisation's focus is on children with less financial means, Guldborg says everyone is welcome to attend.  

"We're all-inclusive, so we don't turn anyone away," she explains. 

Teachers include professional musicians, such as Guldborg, high school music teachers and former students of Arohanui Strings. And while the organisation caters for all levels of talent, the teachers' main goal is for the children to have fun. The fact they learn other key skills, such as teamwork and harmony, is an added bonus. It's also a great confidence builder, explains Guldborg, who says that one of the best parts of her job is to see "the look on their faces when they're able to create this beautiful sound that is not easy to do. Their faces just completely light up when they see that they've accomplished this difficult task". 

The charity also creates links and fosters relationships between the children and professional musicians in orchestras such as Orchestra Wellington and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, as well as arranging lesson scholarships for children who are extra driven to learn. 

And because the children come from a wealth of different cultural and social backgrounds, Guldborg says it's important they learn to play music they enjoy and can relate to. 

"We're not just making them play [the music of] dead white men, as we call it in classical music, we try and play a range of musical styles and to make the kids feel included and showcased." 

This year, Z will surpass the $10 million milestone in donations to community groups and charities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since 2011, largely enabled through its Good in the Hood programme.   

Article created in partnership with Z Energy.