For refugee children from around the world, BSW offers a means of expression that transcends the spoken word. Music and a sense of belonging are powerful supports for children learning about a new culture.
— Dr. Kim Griswold, MD, MHP, Medical Director, Western New York Center for Survivors of Torture: Serving Asylum Speakers


Buffalo String Works' mission is to provide high-quality music instruction on stringed instruments to children of low-income, refugee and immigrant parents. We currently serve 60 K-10th grade children of recently-arrived refugee families, displaced from all over the globe, now settled on Buffalo's West Side, where more than half of its residents live under or just above the federal poverty level. Through music, Buffalo String Works (BSW) offers a creative outlet for children and their families, searching for a sense of belonging in a new community. Music is a universal language, and thus particularly important for recent refugee and immigrant children, whose grasp of English is often tenuous and who rarely speak each others’ languages. By crossing these ethnic boundaries, BSW helps to bring the community together, benefitting not only our students but their families as well.  

BSW is inspired by the model of El Sistema, a best practice program of music instruction currently offered in many cities around the world, targeting children from low-income, underserved communities. Countless studies have shown the benefits of arts education to young students, particularly the study of a musical instrument. With this knowledge, we currently offer free lessons in violin, viola, and cello with hopes to include double bass and more!

In addition to our focus on our young refugee students, as devoted educators, we aim to create an environment that can act as a prototype for other communities, providing a training ground for teachers who will carry on and expand comparable programs. BSW provides the opportunity for aspiring high school and college-age teachers to connect deeply with Buffalo’s refugee community, thus opening their eyes to the socio-economic and cultural diversity of our city. We hope to foster a community of deeper understanding, compassion, and humanity, with the expectation that our teachers will become artistic community leaders, equipped with the drive to build a socially-aware and sustainable program of musical advancement for our city and beyond.

What I like about [Buffalo String Works] is it brings me joy and all the people who play with me. It brings joy for me and them.
— -current BSW student


The inspiration for Buffalo String Works occurred after a concert in March 2014 at P.S. 45 International School, an elementary school on Buffalo’s west side. Elise Golove, the music teacher at the school and BSW co-founder, received funding to engage a group of musicians, which included co-founders, Yuki Numata Resnick and Virginia Barron, to play for her students. What transpired that day was very special indeed! After playing a movement of Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet in C Minor, the students were asked what the music meant to them. A little boy peered out from underneath the desk where he was hiding and said, “I think it means, ‘I love you so much’.” He was right on, intuitively understanding so well what the music was communicating. The students overwhelmed us with their attention and focus; crowding around afterwards, asking questions, wanting to try the instruments, asking “When can we play?!”

“When, indeed?” we asked ourselves. It was in answer to this question that Buffalo String Works was born.

Buffalo String Works officially started in September 2014 with 17 students, 4 teachers and 3 teaching assistants. Since then, we've grown significantly! As of September 2017, we have 60 students, 10 teachers, 6 teaching assistants and we're still growing!

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