Around the Island

From the Island to the Navajo Nation

If you visited the Perlman Music Program campus at Crescent Beach in the summer of 2014, you might have heard Ariel Horowitz, one of PMP’s “Littles,” playing the violin.

Six years later, Ms. Horowitz has been named professor of violin and chamber music at Mount Holyoke College. In the meantime, though, she responded to a request to share her talent by teaching music to young Navajo children. The request came from her mother, a curriculum consultant for Navajo Technical University.

“When she was asked to help establish a performing arts program,” Ms. Horowitz recalled, “my mother said, ‘My daughter goes to Juilliard.’”

The first summer, in 2016, she introduced a set of five 3rd-graders to music, creating The Heartbeat Music Project. “Four years later,” she said, “we had nearly 60 students ages 5 through 18. Never would I have imagined this — it’s grown beyond my wildest dream.”

Sadly, the Project had to postpone its plans for Summer 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Horowitz thought of trying to put the program online, but realized “it would be exclusionary, because a large percentage of Navajos do not have access to the internet.”

The Project quickly pivoted to COVID relief instead, she said. “Because of years of systemic oppression towards Indigenous people, the Navajo Nation has been devastated disproportionately by COVID-19,” she said. “Forty percent of the Navajo Nation doesn’t have internet access, and one third of families in the Navajo Nation still don’t have running water.

On Aug. 22, The Heartbeat Music Project faculty and students hosted a COVID-19 relief fundraising concert to support two Indigenous-led organizations working to provide emergency response support to families disproportionately affected by the pandemic on the Navajo Nation. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised from the fundraising event were given to these organizations: the ADABI Healing Shelter and the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Ms. Horowitz said The Violin Channel helped by streaming their concert on Facebook. Works performed included pieces by Shostakovich, Handel, Harry Dixon-Loes, and Navajo composers Raven Chacon and Connor Chee.

Next up for The Heartbeat Project, Ms. Horowitz is working on arranging transportation for children to places with internet access where they can get online music lessons. “As a young organization,” she said, “we’re learning so much, realizing more of the hurdles the community faces.”

Ms. Horowitz spent much of the time she couldn’t be with the students raising funds. “We were so grateful to be among the recipients of the Lewis Prize COVID-19 Community Relief Fund Grant in the amount of $25,000 and the Mockingbird Foundation COVID-19 Relief Grant in the amount of $5,000,” she said.

The funds will support the project’s continued efforts in directly aiding the Navajo (Diné) community with emergency pandemic-related needs. For The Heartbeat Project’s musical programs, it will help to increase their instrument inventory and create more jobs within the Crownpoint, N.M. community.

“The Project is about so much more than music,” she said, “It’s bound up with survival and uplifting the community. There are things that need to come first so the music can happen.”

Ms. Horowitz recalls when she began the Littles program on Shelter Island, she was 17 and most of the other students had started at age 12 or 13. “I was worried I wouldn’t fit in,” she said, “but everyone was so kind and welcoming.”

She credits Toby Perlman with creating an atmosphere where “no one was left out.” Carrying forward the values that permeated the Perlman summer program, “I try to emulate Mrs. P. I hope our students will form lifelong friendships like we did.”

Following her studies with Itzhak Perlman at Juilliard, Ms. Horowitz won awards for her violin performances, described by The Washington Post as “sweetly lyrical,” at the Menuhin, Grumiaux, Stulberg and Klein International Competitions.

Her work as founder and artistic director of The Heartbeat Project has been recognized with the 2019 Yale Jefferson Award for Public Service, the From the Top Alumni Leadership Grant (2017-18) and the 2017 McGraw Hill-Robert Sherman Award for Music Education and Community Outreach.