Making orchestral music happen in DC schools: cellist Élise Sharp and her String Queens colleagues

Posted on: October 19, 2021

Élise Sharp leads an orchestra class at KIPP DC Northeast Academy. Photo: Tyrone Turner / DCist / WAMU

“As the group of about 20 eighth-graders rolls into the classroom silently … it’s hard to imagine the bubbling, somewhat off-beat symphony that’s about to come,” write Elliot C. Williams and Tyrone Turner in Wednesday’s (10/13) DCist (Washington, D.C.). “The teacher … Élise Sharp … is a cellist for The String Queens, a power trio [with violinist Kendall Isadore and violist Dawn Johnson] of Black women playing string instruments, and the middle school orchestra instructor at the Northeast Academy on Mt. Olivet Rd. NE. … Students are assigned their own violins, violas, cellos, standing basses, keyboards, and percussion sets (empty 5-gallon buckets), depending on the instrument they chose at the beginning of the school year…. The class doesn’t hold anything back, slamming buckets with drumsticks and plucking string instruments…. Sharp doesn’t restrict the class when it comes to genres. Along with classical music, she grew up listening to her parents’ records—a mix of Bob Marley, Celia Cruz, and Diana Ross…. Before the pandemic, The String Queens—all of whom are teachers—would even invite students to their performances….. ‘It’s important that they see us, three Black women, teaching them and pouring love, pouring respect, pouring confidence,’ Sharp says.”