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WQXR Features

An East Harlem 'Eroica'

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On Thursday afternoons, instead of hopping on the subway or bus and heading to homes in Washington Heights, the South Bronx or Harlem, a dozen teenagers at Cristo Rey High School on East 106th Street, stay after, making music.

They are part of a class that teaches songwriting and composition through improvisation, history and dance studies. Now in its fourth year, it is administered through a nonprofit organization called Modern Improvisational Music Appreciation (MIMA), and gets students to explore a highly individual and expressive form of music-making that goes well beyond the bounds of the typical high school band class.

In November, WQXR host Terrance McKnight visited the class as part of a WQXR outreach initiative, to discuss – and perform – the music of Beethoven. Seated at an upright piano, he led a spirited discussion about the composer’s Symphony No. 3 and later that evening, joined the students for a performance of that work at Carnegie Hall by the Orchestre Romantique et Révolutionnaire. followed one student through this experience, Randy Biagas-Hill, a junior from East Harlem. We've documented the visit in the three videos below. We also meet Kevin Wenzel, one of the Randy’s two teachers.

The MIMA program is consistent with Cristo Rey's broader curricular philosophy. A small Catholic college preparatory school, it is open to culturally diverse students whose families cannot afford private school tuition. The school is part of a network of 24 high schools nationwide and financed through businesses who provide entry-level office jobs for students and pay the school accordingly. In 2008 Cristo Rey Network schools sent more than 85 percent of their graduates on to college, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Terrance interviews Randy Biagas-Hill:

Follow Randy's experiences in class, at Carnegie Hall and at WQXR: