Our Story

Nina Stern Headshot.jpg

S'Cool Sounds was founded early in 2002 out of a desire to share the joy of music-making with NYC children. Since graduating music conservatory, I had always enjoyed opportunities to teach aspiring young professionals as well as communicate with and connect to audiences. The richness of my own experiences, however, magnified a painful awareness that many children in my community faced barriers to accessing their own musical voices. The process of learning to play an instrument far transcends the music it generates, with gains in self-expression, connectivity, and creativity that literally impact a lifetime. I founded S'Cool Sounds so that I could share this transformative experience with the children of my community.

Now in its fifteenth year, S'Cool Sounds was first established as a pilot program at The Ella Baker School, a public school in New York City. By 2003, the program was already featured by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post in an article highlighting philosophies and techniques of innovative teachers. One of my favorite quotes from that article was from then nine-year-old Nyja Poe who said, “This music helps me express my feelings. I thought I couldn’t play the recorder - now I know I can, and if I can play the recorder, I can play almost any instrument. And I can learn other new things, too.” Since then, S’Cool Sounds has reached thousands of local students and currently provides hands-on weekly musical instruction to over 700 children throughout New York City.

The cross-cultural focus of S’Cool Sounds found a natural expansion in 2010, when I was invited by a local humanitarian organization to introduce the SCS music program to children living in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. Here I again witnessed the transformative power of music – this time watching it lift spirits and change lives in the largest urban slum in Africa. Today, S’Cool Sounds programs have been implemented in five schools in Kibera, including one that sent a performing group to the Kenyan National Music Competition in 2016 and came home with first prize. Those kids were so proud! In recent years we’ve also developed partnerships with a health organization in Burundi and an organization serving Syrian Refugees in Jordan, the latter of which has already spread to four schools. Connections abroad uniquely complement SCS activities back at home creating a meaningful exchange between our communities – here in NYC our students have made recorder cases for refugee children in Jordan and learned traditional Kenyan beats from our community in Kibera. Fourth-grade Jamzeed Jossain got to the heart of what we’re doing when he said of our transnational friends, “We play the same song.”

We've been supported in our growth by Gotham Early Music Scene (GEMS), a stalwart partner that nourished us as one of their programs from 2008 until we were ready to become a stand-alone organization. This year sees S’Cool Sounds’ graduation to non-profit status as we reaffirm our dedication to expressive communication, mutual respect, and global awareness through musical training for children who lack access to arts education. What began as a vision is now a community that believes in social connectedness, in stimulating creativity and imagination, and in giving the gift of music. By making music together we tell our stories and listen closely to the stories of people around us and far away – communicating and connecting in a way that is more important than ever.

— Nina Stern, Artistic Director