#ShopSmall Fulton Street: Noel Pointer Foundation

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Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart are common names in classical music history, but few people can name classical musicians of color. Classical music practice and appreciation has been regarded as an indulgence of upper class people for the better part of four centuries.  Middle and lower class people, especially people of color, often have little to no exposure to classical music, let alone education in this kind of music. Less than 4.5% of musicians in orchestras nationwide are Black. Defunding of arts and music programs in schools has also disproportionally affected children of color. With public schools’ funds being cut year after year, over 40% of public schools in the U.S. lack adequate funding for either art or music. The Noel Pointer Foundation (NPF) has been instructing children in Central Brooklyn in classical music since the 1990s. A tenant of Restoration Plaza for 13 years, the Foundation is led by Chinita Pointer, who we interviewed. Ms. Pointer spoke about the founding of the organization, her husband’s legacy, and the visibility of African American children in classical music.

Who is Noel Pointer?

My husband was a world renowned jazz violinist. He started experimenting with jazz and R&B works on the violin while attending the Music and Art High School (now known as LaGuardia High School of the Arts). He graduated from Manhattan School of Music in 1977. While he was there, he was approached by an agent from Blue Note Records interested in signing him to a recording contract. After a chance meeting with Ant Adderley, son of “Cannon Ball” Adderley, he suggested adding a pick up to his violin for a bolder, more eclectic sound. Sadly, he passed away December 19th, 1994.

How did the Noel Pointer Foundation begin?

After Noel’s passing, his family and I began talking about setting up a foundation in his honor. We wanted to continue the projects he was working on – writing a book about African American violinists, producing his mother’s choir, Great Day Corale, and arranging Bible scriptures into music. Noel’s family and I began talking about setting up the foundation in his honor.

I was nominated to be the CEO of the foundation, but was doubtful that I would be able to fill the role. I was raising 3 children, 2 primary school and 1 in college at the time, had a full time job, and my husband had just passed, so it seemed impossible. Eventually, I accepted the role. I am the kind of person that sees a challenge to the bitter end. With determination, faith and consistency – in 2018, the Noel Pointer Foundation is still going strong. Running a nonprofit takes a lot of my time, but Noel’s music is so beautiful and I am committed to honoring his legacy.

Where did the Noel Pointer Foundation begin operations?

Our first school was P.S. 44 on Throop Avenue and Monroe Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. We decided to form a string ensemble with the students that would play at PTA meeting. 30 families signed up from the school to be a part of the program. We started with 18 children studying violin and cello. Like most nonprofits, we did not have a lot of money, so our teaching artists created amazing instructional books that we still use today.

As the program developed, the materials were a living books that changed as time progressed. In compliance with the New York state requirement for arts education, we combine the Suzuki method and music reading training. When the word got out about our schools, we increased our programs in schools and got our first grant from the city! In our present operations, we serve children ages 3 to 18, in 32 schools among 4 boroughs.

How has the change in neighborhood effected your business?

Even with the changes in the community, it would be nice if the people who move into this community would take part in what has already been going on in the community. If you are moving into a new community, a community that was predominantly people of color, you have to buy into the local community. Having people come to support events, even small ones, has such an impact.

How do you work with Restoration?

We have been in this space since 2005. We work with RestorationART Youth Arts Academy and offer residencies to arts in the community. We also work with children in Little Sun People.

What advice do you have for someone looking to start a nonprofit?

Persevere. We don’t know what is going to come of the children who take our program. If we arm children with skills and knowledge, you don’t know what could happen. Children who have gone through our program have gone on to become dancers with Alvin Ailey Dance Company, do economic development work for the Mayor’s office, and other wonderful occupations that began with their immersion into music.

The Noel Pointer foundation is committed to helping keeping the dream of classical training alive in Central Brooklyn and New York City.

Visit the Noel Pointer Foundation website to learn more