Allentown Symphony Association’s El Sistema Program Director, Steven Liu, returns home this fall
Steven Liu, founding program director of the Allentown Symphony Association’s El Sistema Lehigh Valley, is leaving this fall to return to his native Los Angeles, spend time with family there and pursue further career opportunities, Symphony Association Executive Director Sheila Evans announced. El Sistema Lehigh Valley, the local version of a world-renowned program that uses music instruction to provide underserved children the skills to grow and thrive in the community, has flourished under Liu’s stewardship. Housed at Roosevelt Elementary School and South Mountain Middle School in Allentown, the holistic program, which provides free music instruction, instruments, tutoring and other support every day after school, has grown to more than 100 students since its inception in 2011. ESLV also has drawn national acclaim and grant support as well as partnerships with and honors from United Way, the Boys and Girls Club of America, local colleges and universities and others.
“We were very fortunate to have hired one of the original El Sistema fellows from New England Conservatory,” said Director Evans. “Steven has done a great job of starting the program and building it.” The program has been entirely funded by grants and private giving by foundations and individuals, a remarkable accomplishment, said Evans.
Symphony Association Board member Kristine Burfeind, who was instrumental in bringing El Sistema to the Lehigh Valley, agreed. “It really has been a privilege to know Steven and to have him here,” said Burfeind. “He has developed a fabulous program with a lot of hard work. Now we have well over 100 in the program and there is a long waiting list.” The program, said Burfeind, has taught the children leadership skills that will serve them and their community for the rest of their lives.
Former Allentown School Superintendent Diane Scott, worked with the Symphony Association to establish ESLV, also praised Liu for taking the program “from an idea to the success that it is today.” The key has been his relationship with the kids and their families, said Scott. “He will be sorely missed by the students and parents in the El Sistema program. He is like the Pied Piper,” inspiring the children with his talent and energy.
Director Evans said that the international search for a successor is under way and is in its final stages. “We need the right person to lead the program into the future,” Evans said. “We will find someone who will continue to grow our national reputation and to expand ESLV as the kids in the program move up through the grades.” The search committee, led by Evans, is made up of educators, board members, parents, and other area non-profits. Liu is certain the program will continue to thrive. Three years of receiving nationally competitive funding from Getty Grants through the League of American Orchestras is a point of pride for him. But, he said, even more significant are the indicators of community impact, including measurable improvements in academics, attendance and behavior among the students in the program, the family involvement El Sistema has inspired, and the spontaneous support from philanthropists, foundations, and businesses.
Parents whose children have been in the program express deep gratitude to Liu for his work. Notable in their comments is affection for the dynamic bass player who has brought music and much more to their kids.
“Steven is like a big musical teddy bear,” said Veruska Suarez-Llerena, who has had two children in the program. The program helped her identify tone and pitch and to overcome her shyness. “Hamming with 80 of her peers every day had an outstanding effect on her personality…She became a better student at school, mainly more social.”
Her family recently moved to Florida and reluctantly left ESLV behind. But, said Suarez-Llerena, they have carried the spirit of the program with them. In their new home, they have sout out music programs, which has helped them acclimate and become active community members. “We love and miss El Sistema, and will forever be grateful to it.”
Roosevelt Principal Erin Martin also feels deep gratitude for what Liu has accomplished on behalf of all who have been touched by the program. “Over the last four years, Steven Liu has worked tirelessly to develop so much more than just a musical program – he has built a community of students who feel a greater sense of connection with the school and a deeper sense of pride in self,” said Martin. “While Steven’s absence will be felt by all, the foundation that he worked to build will continue to stand long after he leaves and his mark on this program and our students will always remain.” This is exactly the way Liu wants it. “I love the kids. It’s always been about them, not me,” he said. “To see their growth has been truly inspiring and I am confident that the program will continue well with the support of a remarkable and vibrant community.”
May 19, 2015 – Photos/Bios available
Contact: Sheila Evans, Executive Director
610-432-7961 x101 gro.ynohpmysnwotnellanull@snaves