Local students to play Violins of Hope

By Paul Paterra staff Writer ppaterra@observer-Reporter.Com 5 min read
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Paul Paterra/Observer-Reporter

These Bethel Park High School students are among those who will be taking part in “Hope in the South Hills,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Upper St. Clair High School. From left are: Riley Smith, Cam Wallace, Lily Spence, Joshua Lubawy, Katie Peterson, Katelyn Wolf and Clara McGough.

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Courtesy of Kathryn Duchin

Sarah Bitsko (right), orchestra teacher at Jefferson Middle School in the Mt. Lebanon School District, and eighth grader Evgenii Matros — who played the theme from “Schindler’s List,” while being accompanied by his mother Janna on the piano.

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Photos: Courtesy of Kathryn Duchin

Students of Jefferson Middle School play Violins of Hope.

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Courtesy of Kathryn Duchin

{span}Gokul Krishnam, an eighth-grade student at Jefferson Middle School, reads the story of his violin.{/span}

Students from three South Hills high schools will join together to play instruments steeped in history.

“Hope in the South Hills” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Upper St. Clair High School and will showcase students from Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon high schools (rivals in many sports) as they present readings and perform music that captures the essence of the Holocaust.

“It’s about remembrance,” said Chelsea Casagranda, English and social studies teacher at Bethel Park High School. “But it’s also about bringing the community together. There is definitely a focus on not only talking about the lessons of the past, but also whose responsibility it is to share the message moving forward.”

The event will be presented by Violins of Hope Pittsburgh, South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM), JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness, and other South Hills partners.

“Faith in our roots has kind of been a thread of what SHIM has done,” said Seth Dubin, SHIM’s director of development and communications. “Every one of those violins will have a story and we’ll be able to share that. It’s really important right now. We wanted this to be a forum for people to share their voice, focus on that resiliency and hope in dark times.”

Admission is free, but registration is encouraged at

Violins of Hope is a collection of string instruments played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. The instruments have been rescued and restored by violin makers Ammon and Avshalom Weinstein. Each refurbished instrument has an emotional story tucked inside its case.

About 40 students from the three schools will join forces for an initial piece at the beginning of the program. Throughout the rest of the evening, there will be smaller ensembles.

There also will be a performance by the Clarion Quartet, which was formed in 2015 by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra members Marta Krechkovsky, Jennifer Orchard, Tatjana Mead Chamis, and Bronwyn Banerdt. The quartet plays music banned by the Nazi regime and by composers whose abuses during the Holocaust ranged from exile to execution.

Christine Hestwood, recently retired Upper St. Clair orchestra director, felt the need for students she taught to get a chance to perform with these historical instruments.

“It was important to get these instruments into the hands of students,” Hestwood said. “They tell an important story and I think it’s such a tangible way for the students to really connect with history. It’s a living reminder and a tribute to have these instruments sing again.”

The contingent of Bethel Park students — three violinists, a cellist and a viola player — will perform “Sleep My Child.” The song by Larry Clark reflects upon taking a rest after a long and difficult struggle.

“These instruments held such a special place in the history of the people who owned them,” said Bethel Park senior Clara McGough. “They were such an extension of themselves, and this music was a way for them to have hope in these dark times. It’s a physical piece of them and we’ll be able to make music just like they did and express them through this relic of their past.”

The Holocaust is part of the curriculum at Bethel Park High School, so involvement in “Hope in the South Hills,” takes on an extra special meaning for the students.

“It is very important to tell these stories,” said Bethel Park senior Joshua Lubawy. “They wanted these instruments to be played. Without them, these stories and the way they helped these people get through this time are lost.”

Riley Smith, a Bethel Park sophomore, has a love for music but does not play a string instrument. Still, she wanted to be involved in “Hope in the South Hills.” She wrote and researched a story she will be presenting about Alma Rose, a Jewish prisoner who had a strong connection with a guard due to her talent on the violin.

“She was probably one of the only Jewish prisoners who they allowed to be mourned after her death,” Smith said. “I think it’s really important for people to realize how much of an impact music made.”

Some younger students in the Mt. Lebanon School District already had these pieces of history in their hands.

Eighth-grade students at Jefferson Middle School and Mellon Middle School played carefully chosen musical pieces after hearing a presentation on the Holocaust, the violins and the violin makers who are preserving these instruments.

“It was amazing,” said Kathryn Duchin, gifted coordinator at Jefferson Middle School. “We wanted the eighth graders to play the instruments because they would value and understand the meaning of holding these amazing and historic instruments. I think they were able to understand that this is incredible.”

The Jefferson Middle School program culminated with a performance of the theme from Schindler’s List, played by Evgenii Matros on the violin, while accompanied by his mother, Janna, on the piano.

“It was incredible,” Evgenii Matros said. “It was amazing to even touch such a historic thing. Then to play it was so special. I don’t think I even expected that to happen. It was an incredible opportunity for me.”

The 13-year-old admitted he was nervous about the performance.

“Thinking about everyone who achieved so many things and survived such a horrible event, I decided to play for them and put all of my feelings toward them,” Matros said.

His mother found the experience to be quite emotional for her.

“It is really, really emotional music if you think about all of the events of the war,” Janna Matros said. “I was really happy that they allowed me to play with him at school.”

Once the students from three high schools get together to play these instruments on Nov. 13, McGough expects it to be quite a surreal experience with emotions running high.

“This is going to one of the most historically substantial performances I’ve ever taken part in,” she said.




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