What’s New

Project STEP Announces New Executive Director Alyssa Lee

Alyssa_Lee2019The Project STEP Board of Directors is excited to announce that Alyssa Lee has been selected as the Executive Director of Project STEP effective January 28, 2019.

Upon accepting the position, Alyssa commented “I sincerely believe that cultivating a diverse field of classical musicians, reflecting the diversity of our communities, plays a vital role in our societies to allow people to feel welcome, inspired and valued. I am excited to lead Project STEP as we continue to make an impact, using the arts as a vehicle for social change.”

Alyssa comes to Project STEP with over 15 years of nonprofit experience, including 10 years of executive level experience specifically focusing on community arts programming ranging from positions with community music schools, to arts activist organizations, and professional chamber music ensembles. Throughout her career, Alyssa has advocated for local artists in an effort to promote greater civic engagement and economic development. In between earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Music (applied oboe) from Western Michigan University and a Master’s degree in Arts Administration from Boston University, she served in both AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

The community, staff, students, and Board of Directors look forward to the next chapter of Project STEP with Alyssa Lee supporting and directing our efforts.

Mellon Foundation Awards $2.5 Million for New Music Achievement Initiative

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $2.5 million to the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), in a partnership consortium with Project STEP, the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras, the Community Music Center of Boston, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to launch the Boston Bridge to Equity and Achievement in Music (BEAM) initiative. The BEAM Initiative will support a collaborative effort between the member organizations, to provide pathways of educational opportunity and advanced preparation to Boston-area middle and high school instrumental musicians from historically underrepresented communities. Consistent with the mission of Project STEP, the goal of the BEAM initiative is to increase diversity in conservatory and university instrumental music programs, in order to address longstanding inequities in the field of classical music. Boston Globe Article Here>>

STEP Student Isabel Garita-Chin to Play with Pops in Franklin Park this September

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 at 3pm, STEP student Isabel Garita-Chin will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Boston Pops at Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain. An extraordinary honor, we hope you will join us at this FREE outdoor concert.


Gabriella Sanna’s Next STEP

Gabriella Sanna will be leaving STEP on August 1, 2018 to take a position with Rivers School of Music. Everyone at Project STEP wishes her the best as she embarks on her next STEP. Read Gabriella’s letter to friends here.


Project STEP 35th Anniversary Celebration in Partnership with The New England Conservatory

June 10th, 2018 at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory | Photos by Jana Williams and Abdi Ali



Celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, January 15, Project STEP students took part in not one, not two, but THREE Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations! In the morning, several STEP students performed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast at the Boston Convention Center, followed by two performances at the MFA’s MLK Day Open House (pictured above). We ended the day with our own celebration at Hibernian Hall. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to connect and reflect with so many different communities. It was an unforgettable day!


Cabezas masterclass

Gabriel Cabezas Masterclass

On January 6, Gabriel Cabezas returned for the second year in a row to share his knowledge with our students during a Saturday afternoon masterclass! Cabezas is a sought-after musician who has performed with artists ranging from America’s finest orchestras to the contemporary dance collective Duende. He is also a two-time first place Laureate of the Sphinx Competition, and was awarded the 2015 Sphinx Medal of Excellence for his work as an emerging classical artist of color.


Apple Hill String Quartet Masterclass

As always, the Apple Hill String Quartet blew us away! Sending a big thank you to Lenny Matczynski, Elise Kuder, Colleen Jennings, Rupert Anthony Thompson and Mike Kelly for their inspirational playing and transformative musical guidance. Our students grow each time they see you! For more information about the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music check out their website.

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BSO/Boston Pops at Franklin Park Zoo

On Sunday, October 1, at 3 p.m., the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, in partnership with the City of Boston, presented a special free concert in Boston’s Franklin Park. Before the BSO and Boston Pops took the stage, we provided some instrument demonstrations and an instrument petting zoo for curious community members, some of whom seemed to catch the string instrument bug. To top it all off, we even got to meet Maestro Andris Nelsons himself!

Project STEP Welcomes Three New Board Members in 2017-2018

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Carla Haith is a school administrator. She is entering her third year Dedham Country Day School, an Independent School right outside of Boston. Prior to her work at Dedham Country School, Carla spent 13 years working at the Chestnut Hill School in a variety of roles. Carla is also a proud alumni/valedictorian and a former teacher of Boston Public Schools. She holds a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from Clark Atlanta University and an M.Ed from Lesley University. Carla is a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated and she is currently the president of the Boston Alumni chapter for the sorority. Carla is also a certified Basketball Official through the IAABO board 27. In her spare time she loves to travel and spend time with family and friends.

Alex McCray

With a career in the nonprofit sector that spans 20 years, Alex McCray currently serves as Senior Director of Programs for Associated Grant Makers (AGM), a membership-based philanthropy-serving organization. Prior to joining AGM Alex served in a Resource Development capacity at both the United Way of Greater Plymouth County and the United Way of Rhode Island. For nearly two years Alex was a Senior Associate at Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), helping to strengthen nonprofits and enabling leaders to make sound strategic decisions. In addition to fundraising and consulting, Alex has held program management and marketing roles within arts-focused, youth and workforce development nonprofits. Alex gained a grantmaker’s perspective in his 4-year stint at the Rhode Island Foundation, where he continues to serve on an Advisory Council. Alex received his M.S. Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies and was awarded his B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College.

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Kim Noltemy is the Chief Operating and Communications Officer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and joins the Project STEP Board of Directors as our newest BSO Representative.



Photo by Peter Lee

Isabel Wins 2016-17 YRO Concerto Competition at NEC

Project STEP 8th grader Isabel won the 2016-2017 concerto competition for the Youth Repertory Orchestra at New England Conservatory, and we couldn’t be prouder! She performed Barber’s Violin Concerto with the orchestra, which includes several other Project STEP students. The NEC Prep Concerto competition is open to all ages and instruments, and is held every year in November. Click here to watch Isabel’s performance.


Photo by Diane Asséo Griliches

MLK Jr. Legacy Celebration

Project STEP presented its Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Monday, January 16, 2017. This annual event is a chance for Project STEP families, staff, faculty, Board, friends, and the surrounding community to come together to honor the life and legacy of MLK Jr., and consists of ensemble performances by all Project STEP students. Continuing a recent tradition, this celebration also included a panel discussion featuring Project STEP students, faculty, parents, and local musicians of color on the intersection of classical music, race, MLK’s legacy, and Project STEP. New this year, Project STEP students presented their submissions for a Martin Luther King Jr. poster and essay contest.

A Far Cry Masterclass

On November 6, two members of the cutting-edge, conductorless chamber orchestra A Far Cry joined our students and families at Symphony Hall to lead an inspirational masterclass. This event was part of Project STEP’s year-long residency with A Far Cry, which includes concert previews, private coachings, mentorship opportunities, and a collaborative performance opportunity. We are grateful to Miki and Jason for sharing their unique knowledge and expertise with our students, and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store!

Noah with Mark O'Connor for news pageNoah Performs Alongside Idol Mark O’Connor

We are so proud of Project STEP 11th grader Noah, who performed with the Cape Symphony alongside one of his musical idols, Mark O’Connor! Although he primarily plays classical violin in Project STEP, Noah is also an incredible fiddler. He auditioned for the opportunity to accompany Mr. O’Connor in his performance of ‘Olympic Reel’ and was one of just 4 students chosen (including another high schooler and two students from Berklee College of Music)!


Guess Who Went to the White House…Again?!

A quartet of current Project STEP students and alumni recently performed for a State Dinner with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which honored the Prime Minister of Singapore. This was our second time at the White House since becoming one of the recipients of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards in 2014. We are beyond thrilled to share this photograph with our extended Project STEP family, and to our students, Njioma, Tristan, Lev and Jordan – you all played beautifully and made us so proud. Pictured from left: Project STEP alumnus Lev, Jodie McMenamin, Gabriella Sanna, President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Lee Hsien Loong, STEP alumni Jordan and Tristan, and Project STEP student Njioma in the Blue Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy.

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Photograph by Louis H. Hamel, Jr.

In Memory of Louis H. Hamel, Jr.

Dear friend and generous supporter of Project STEP, Louis H. Hamel, Jr. passed away on Sunday, September 4th. Louis was involved with Project STEP for over ten years, advocating for our mission and sharing an unyielding belief in the power of music to improve our students’ lives. After working in his father’s leather business and considering the priesthood, Louis began working at Hale and Door Law firm in 1969, where he was a partner in Trusts and Estates (eventually becoming Senior Counsel in 1998). After his career in law Louis turned to his interest in photography, and this craft became a passion when he retired. His photography focused on Italy (primarily Venice and Rome), simple farm scenes often shot in Concord, MA, and religious statues and paintings. Louis also photographed our students at STEP and his images still adorn our office walls today. His legacy will live on in our hearts and shared stories of his incredible life. Louis’ family has requested that donations be made to Project STEP in lieu of flowers. Checks can also be mailed to our office at: Project STEP, Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

Parker Quartet with Menahem Pressler

Photograph by Michael J. Lutch

Thank you, Mary, for a wonderful 11 years!

On Wednesday, June 8th, the Project STEP community honored the retirement of our longtime Executive Director, Mary Jaffee. During the past 11 years, Mrs. Jaffee oversaw the training of over 100 individual students in the core STEP program and more than 600 Kindergarten students in the FOCUS program! Under her direction, Project STEP has been family oriented and student centered. It has also focused on strategic growth, increasing the student body from 35 to 48, nearly doubling the budget, and developing the administrative/artistic staff from a team of 3 to a team of 7. Project STEP also reached a pinnacle in its 34 year history by receiving the prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in November 2014. Mary has displayed exemplary leadership, dedication, and absolute commitment to Project STEP. We will miss her and we thank her for her many years of service!

Itsva seniore recital croppedSaying Goodbye to Our Graduating Seniors

On Thursday, June 2nd, we officially bid farewell to our two graduating seniors, Tristan and Itsva (pictured left). Both of these students have spent much of their lives in Project STEP – Tristan for 10 years and Itsva for 12. Tristan is heading off to Bard College and Conservatory in the fall, where he will study violin performance, and Itsva will continue her musical studies at Umass Dartmouth. We couldn’t be prouder of all of their accomplishments and can’t wait to see what comes next for them both!

2015-2016 Spring RecitalNjioma spring recital cropped

On May 22nd, we held our annual Spring Recital and Parents’ Benefit, sponsored by the Gregory E. Bulger Foundation. Not only was this event the culmination of another year of work, progress, and achievement, but it was also a chance for our families and students to honor 11 years of leadership from our retiring Executive Director, Mary Jaffee. At the recital, all students performed in chamber music ensembles for friends and family, followed by awards and a delicious post-recital reception. Photograph by Abdi Ali.

Masterclass with the Apple Hill String Quartet

We were incredibly fortunate to be able to learn from the Apple Hill String Quartet and Apple Hill Director Lenny Matczynski during our final Masterclass of the year on Sunday, March 6th. Focusing on social change and conflict resolution through music, the Apple Hill Quartet performs concerts and leads chamber music workshops in areas with a history of conflict: the Middle East in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, the West Bank/Palestine, and the Greek and Turkish areas of Cyprus; England, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland; and the Eurasian Caucasus. They emphasize listening, observing, adjusting, sensitivity and flexibility – the same skills needed to function in today’s contentious world. We are grateful for their inspiration and guidance, and hope they come back soon!

Tristan Competes at Sphinx!

We are SO proud of Project STEP violinist Tristan for competing in the 2016 Sphinx Competition. Tristan was selected from a broad national pool of highly talented Black and Latino string players and traveled to Detroit from Feb. 3 – 7 to compete as one of just 9 semi-finalists in the Junior Division. He performed masterfully and with wonderful musicality and we couldn’t be prouder. Now, on to college and conservatory auditions!

During the competition, members of STEP’s staff also attended Sphinx’s annual conference SphinxCon to learn from leaders in the field about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in the arts. All in all, an exciting and thought-provoking weekend!


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Photograph by Diane Asseo Griliches –

Moser is BACK!

Critically-acclaimed cellist Johannes Moser returned for the second year in a row to lead an inspirational masterclass for the students of Project STEP. Not only were our students able to see him perform a fiery Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra earlier that week, but they were able to work with him one-on-one and ask important questions about his life as a musician. Moser’s mentorship and guidance will be a source of inspiration for our students for years to come, and we hope to see him again VERY soon!

Project STEP Honors the Life and Legacy of MLK Jr.

On Monday, January 18th 2016, members of the Project STEP community gathered to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event included performances by students, faculty and staff, as well as a testimonial by Rev. Michael Haynes, a ministerial colleague of Dr. King’s at Twelfth Baptist Church and a grandfather to two STEP students. Continuing a new tradition, the event also included a panel discussion on the connections between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Lives Matter movement, and Project STEP. Featured on the panel: STEP parent Abdi Ali, Christopher Lyden, STEP parent Yvonne Brooks, STEP faculty Jason Amos, and current STEP student Kerby.

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BCQ members Adam Esbensen, Alexandre Lecarme, Blaise Dejardin, and Mihail Jojatu with Project STEP student Rigo

Boston Cello Quartet Masterclass

We kicked off the first of three public masterclasses with an exciting visit from the Boston Cello Quartet on Sunday, November 15th. All members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, these dynamic cellists took turns listening to and coaching several groups of STEP students before ending the event with a live performance. It was an inspiring afternoon for all and we hope to have them back again soon!

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Project STEP FriendRaiser

Back by popular demand, our second FriendRaiser took place at Scholars Bistro on Tuesday, November 10th. This event is always an exciting opportunity for us to spend an evening with new friends as well as welcome back long-time supporters. Guests raised their glasses and a few dollars in support of our program and enjoyed a short performance from STEP students.


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From left: Taylor, Itsva, Njioma, and Lauryn

Congratulations, Taylor!

Project STEP student Taylor Payne performed her Senior Recital on Sunday, May 31st. She prepared a wonderful recital including solo pieces, chamber music, and a piece written specifically for her by a Tufts composition student. Taylor will attend Ithaca College in the fall, where she will continue her studies as a music major. We are extremely proud of Taylor’s accomplishments, and excited to maintain Project STEP’s record of sending 100% of our graduates to college or conservatory.


Ariyana cropped for news pageStudents Perform in 2015 Spring Recital and Parents’ Benefit

On May 17th, we held our annual Spring Recital and Parents’ Benefit. This end-of-year recital, sponsored by the Gregory E. Bulger Foundation, is the culmination of a year of work, progress, and achievement. Thank you to all of our students and parents for putting together such a beautiful recital. Everyone did a wonderful job and we are very proud! View more photos here.

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STEP Featured on WGBH’s Open Studio with Jared Bowen

Last month, WGBH Arts Editor Jared Bowen stopped by Symphony Hall to interview past and current Project STEP students for a segment on his show, Open Studio. The episode was televised March 27th and 29th on WGBH Ch. 2, and features interviews with Executive Director Mary Jaffee, alumna Njeri Grevious, and current student Ajani Boyd (pictured here with Jared Bowen). If you missed the segment live, watch it here!

Project STEP Competes at March Opus Affair

Opus Affair gathers individuals together once a month to informally network about the arts scene in Boston. Proceeds from punch purchased at the event are contributed to an arts organization chosen by the guests, and this month Project STEP was one of three featured organizations. On March 24, we competed against Apollinaire Theatre Company and The Art Connection, and we ended up winning the Punch Bowl Fund! A big thank you to everyone who attended and voted!

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Johannes Moser Masterclass

On Sunday, January 25th, cellist Johannes Moser gave a masterclass for Project STEP held at The Boston Conservatory’s beautiful new building. Mr. Moser performed earlier in the week with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where some of our students were able to see and hear him give a fiery performance of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto. At the masterclass, Mr. Moser was just as talented and full of personality with his teaching as he is with his playing. We truly do hope that he returns to Boston soon! Until then, view more photos from the masterclass here.

Students Perform at Governor Charlie Baker’s Inauguration

As an exciting kick-off to the New Year, a group of Project STEP students performed for Governor Baker’s Inauguration on January 8th, 2015. It was an incredibly exciting evening during which our students played for the Governor’s friends and family at a private dinner and then for guests in the VIP Lounge. We are honored and grateful to have had this opportunity to perform! Click HERE to see more photos from the event.

In Memory of Rita MeyerRita Meyer pic for News Page

Former Project STEP Board Director and friend, Henrietta “Rita” Meyer, passed away Wednesday, December 17th, 2014. Rita was a vital and influential presence here at Project STEP (where she worked from 1992-2002), as well as a tireless advocate for the program in the wider community. We would not be where we are today at Project STEP without Rita’s leadership and guidance. In lieu of flowers, Rita’s family has asked that donations be made in her name to Project STEP.

Project STEP in the Boston Globe

On December 16th, 2014, the Boston Globe ran an article about Project STEP in the Lifestyle section. In the article, which features several STEP students, author James Sullivan discusses the history of the program as well as our recent NAHYP award. View it online here, or read it in PDF form!

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National Endowment for the Arts Awards Project STEP a Grant of $50,000

Project STEP is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works grant of $50,000 to support our talented and motivated students for the year 2015-2016. Read the full press release here.

Michelle Obama hugs Ajani Boyd by Steve E Purcell for News Page

Project STEP is a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Winner!

Click HERE to read more, see photos from the ceremony, and watch Ajani and Mary accept the award at the White House Ceremony!


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Project STEP and Triple Helix Join Together to Honor Judith Sandler

On October 18th, Project STEP and the Triple Helix Piano Trio presented their first joint benefit concert to celebrate the life and legacy of Judith Sandler, a long-time friend of the Piano Trio. All proceeds from the concert will be put towards the Judith Sandler Fund, a new scholarship initiated by Triple Helix for the students of Project STEP. The evening was incredibly inspiring, and featured speeches and performances that integrated Triple Helix members with Project STEP students, board, alumni, staff, and faculty. We would like to thank everyone who attended the concert for making it such a success, and we are incredibly excited to see this become an annual event!  Photo by Michael Lutch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProject STEP Alum Tony Rymer Wins Second Prize in the George Enescu Competition!

Congratulations Tony, we are extremely proud! Tony played the Dvorak Cello Concerto at the beautiful Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest. Click here to view the performance.




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Recycled STEP Violins in El Salvador

Have you ever wondered what happens to the instruments that are no longer in use by Project STEP students? The violins pictured in this lesson were sent to a music program in El Salvador at La Escuela Parroquial de Musica (click here to learn more about the program). We sent these violins in order to recycle our instruments and put them to good use in programs such as this one, which previously had no violins to offer its students.