Sol La Ti’s 20 anniversary in the press. Read this beautiful interview with Gabriele Tranchina on Winnie, an educational website for young families
20 anniversary interview with Gabriele Tranchina on Winnie
In 1997 Ms Tranchina, was attempting to make a transition in her life. Having come from Germany some years prior with a teaching degree from J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt/M., she decided that she now would like to supplement her income as a Jazz Vocalist by teaching music to children.
In a telephone conversation with her friend Arleen Kestenbaum, she learned about a “mommy and me” program called Music Together®. Arleen had taken her oldest daughter to such a class and she thought it would be perfect for Gabriele. Within a month Ms Tranchina attended the initial 3-day training course and was
eager to teach. It turned out that the existing Music Together centers didn’t need any additional teachers.
Talking to another friend, Silvia Meo, Gabriele found there was a way to teach, by opening up her own center. Sylvia had, at that time, 2 children that were of the MT age and helped putting together the first class, consisting of 7 parents. The Morningside Heights area was given to Ms Tranchina by MT headquarters and the first
class was born. Within the years that followed, Ms Tranchina continued to work 2 other jobs in order to build up her classes. Many helping hands made it possible to establish 12 classes within 2 years.
Fun-filled classes on the weekends In 1999, Ms Tiana Norgren approached Ms Tranchina with an offer to teach Music
Together classes at the Morningside Gardens complex on Saturdays. Ms Norgren and a group of families that lived in this complex were trying to create activities for their children. They formed the Children’s Play Club and the Music Together classes became part of the offerings. Since that time, we have held two classes on Saturdays for families that wished to do a fun filled activity on the weekend with their children.
The Business Side of Running a Business
In 2000 Ms Tranchina finally bought a computer and paper class lists became past tense. It was always easy for Ms Tranchina to teach and manage the office work, but to run a business successfully was something she had to work on very hard. The reason learning about marketing and advertising was so important, was due to the fact that the area was thriving with other competing programs for this age group, including another large MT center just 12 blocks away.
In that same year, two new teachers were added: Antje Zumbansen, who taught on two days, and Jim Mc Nickle, who came to assist and learn. That meant the teachers had to be supervised and trained in order to be on the highest standard and to match the expectations of the neighborhood. So, when it seemed that things were finally coming
together, a crisis was on the way.
9/11 and the years that followed
2001 was an enormously strenuous time for Gabriele, personally as well as professionally. In March of that year, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In June, she went through the rigors of forming a corporation with the name Sol La Ti Music, Inc.
On 9/11 the apartment in Battery Park City that the Tranchina’s called their home for 8 years was destroyed. Just when free trial classes were supposed to be starting, Ms Tranchina had no access to her home. Her phone lines were disconnected for 6 weeks.
Her computer files inaccessible, the key to the storage closet for her instruments at BPC were left at home and the song material for the upcoming semester was completely destroyed by debris from the World Trade Center collapse.
In addition to having no place to live, she had no way of starting her semester or getting in touch with families. When the authorities finally allowed ten minutes of access to her apartment, she somehow managed to pull it all together within a week’s time. A new cell phone made it possible to finally get in touch with the families that had already signed up. Everybody helped and classes started magically on time.
The way the families helped during that time was beyond any expectations and it made her grow even closer to her community in Morningside Heights. Many friendships deepened even more.
The Tranchina’s lived for 3 months with the generous and loving jazz vocalist, Sheila Jordan. During that time, the big decision to move out of the city was made. While the winter semester was approaching, Gabriele had no way of getting into the city on the weekends, and hence Jim Mc Nickle took over the Saturday morning classes,
which he is still teaching today.
Enrollment didn’t plunge immediately but in the years that followed 9/11, many families lost their jobs, others moved away from the city, and still others cut their budget for classes in order to get by. Many scholarships were given out to families that wanted to continue.
The financial strain for the Tranchina’s was enormous, especially with her husband, a jazz pianist, loosing a 5 night a week gig due to the venue closing because of lack of tourism, and then being basically out of work and going through cancer treatment. In addition, there was the expense of replacing things destroyed by 9/11, the move and the purchase of a new car. All this accompanied by the drop in enrollment.
In order to keep her teachers employed, Ms Tranchina again took on other jobs to keep the business alive.
It took years to finally get back on track.
Harlem going strong
In 2003, several families of the Harlem community were very active in making changes in their community and with the help of Ms Judith Insell, a third location was added, the Harlem School of the Arts. As the area around the HSA was still in a transitional state, it was very difficult to establish Music Together classes there, even with the enthusiasm of so many families. However, classes grew slowly but surely. The location needed to be changed to Grace Congregational Church at a later time and is returning back to Harlem School of the Arts in the Fall of 2017. Many families who resided in Central Harlem would take the long trip to BPC in order for their children to take Music Together classes. Ms Tranchina searched for a long time to find an adequate space in this vicinity and had a bumpy start due to the recession and not having the ideal space. Finally she was able to settle in 2015 at The Church of the Master. The classes are still in development but currently Sol La Ti is able to offer 3-4 classes per week at this location.
Back on Track
By 2005 Sol La Ti Music was finally back to its old enrollment status. In 2006 it even experienced an increase in classes, due to 2 new buildings that were completed on 110 Street and Broadway. Afternoon classes for older children and working parents In the last couple of years, the demand for afternoon classes has grown. Many families with older children wanted to come back to Music Together. Other families wanted to take their children to class after work, so they could enjoy the class instead of sending a nanny during the morning times.
Sol La Ti has now two afternoon classes geared to older children called Pre Rhythm Kids. In the planning stage is a class for 5 and 6 year olds called Rhythm Kids.
Gabriele’s Staff present and past
What became of some of them? Antje Zumbansen led her own center in Brooklyn. She left New York 2 years ago and is
now running 28 classes in Berlin, Germany. Amanda Hsieh had a baby called Abigail and started her own centers in Queens and Long Island. Seunghee Han is running her own center in Queens and also teaches MT in Brooklyn. Nicky went back to Switzerland to perform Musical Theatre. Jeff is teaching in Brooklyn and Queens. Betsy Lind directed her energies in several other fields. Manana Ninua became a preschool teacher. Sabrina Francis branched out in various fields.
Jim Mc Nickle, and Mia Neibert are currently with Gabriele.
30 Years of Music Together headquarters
Music Together headquarters has grown much over their 30 years. Starting with just mixed age classes in a few cities in the U.S., now they are present all over the world. Last year, the headquarters completed and opened the doors to their new, most beautiful building in Princeton. In addition to teaching regular MT classes and MT in Preschools, they are running their laboratory school.
Baby classes – MT added baby classes to the curriculum in 2000. The pilot version was completed in 1998.
Classes for older children – In the last few years, MT led much of their attention to older children and also started to offer MT in preschools. They now have developed a class geared to 5 and 6 year olds, which Ms Tranchina is planning to offer in the future. They are also working on Outreach programs.
The team of Sol La Ti Music, Inc. hopes to continue with their good work. They desire to grow with the new ideas, programs and research offered by the headquarters, and to continue to give their gift of love through music to many children and adults to come.