For 30 years ACO's educational programs have positioned music composition as a gateway to creative thinking, problem solving, and self-expression. Our long-term Sonic Spark residencies nurture the imagination through creative rituals and play, cultivating personal, social, and academic growth. Sonic Spark serves students at every stage of creative development, including those who have never played an instrument before, are learning to write music for the first time, or are on track to develop high level careers as performers and composers.

ACO offers 3 Sonic Spark programs:

Each is designed to magnify the social and academic goals of your school or organization.

SONIC SPARK by the Numbers

  • 30+ years of experience in NYC public schools​
  • Serves grades 4-12
  • All programs available in-school or after-school​
  • Programming for special needs students, classes, and schools, including District 75
  • All programs embody all strands of the Blueprint for Arts Learning & NYS Arts Standards​

Our Focus on Creativity

Creativity is more than just making art; it is shown to advance academic growth, support personal transformation, and is ranked among the most in-demand skills for job preparedness.
  • Sonic Spark Lab uses music performance, improvisation, and composition
    as a vehicle for developing creative thinking and complex problem-solving
  • Students develop tools for approaching academic and professional
    life with a flexible, adaptable, creative mindset
  • Self-esteem and confidence are nurtured through creative collaboration, rooted
    in a recognition of each student’s unique talents, mindfulness, personal
    agency/empowerment, and collective decision-making

Recent Partners

  • LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, Manhattan
  • Achievement First Bushwick Middle School, Bushwick Brooklyn
  • Fort Hamilton High School, Bay Ridge Brooklyn
  • IS 229 Roland Patterson Middle School, Morris Heights Bronx
  • Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, Astoria Queens
  • Brooklyn High School for the Arts, Brooklyn
  • The Computer School, Manhattan
  • Brotherhood Sister Sol, Harlem
  • Youth Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Manhattan
  • Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Brooklyn
  • Harlem School of the Arts, Manhattan
  • The Apollo Theater, Harlem

Meet our Teaching Artists

Elizabeth Pupo Walker

Elizabeth is a percussionist who has performed, and recorded with headlining stars including John Legend, Dave Grohl, The Roots, Reggie Watts, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Sinead O’Connor, Harry Styles, Mark Ronson, Uri Caine, Chris Potter, Los Lobos, Michael Bublé, Zakir Hussain, and Elvis Costello as well as the house bands on the Conan O’Brien and James Cordon shows.. Elizabeth has studied in Cuba with Los Munequitos de Matanzas, and at Conjunto Folklórico Nacional School of Music in Havana. She has been featured in DRUM! magazine and has been studying and performing percussion for 30 years.  Elizabeth has been teaching Drumming for ACO at IS 229 Middle School since 2011(!) and  has also been teaching percussion and leadership skills through The Leadership Program since 2006.

Reinaldo De Jesus

Reinaldo De Jesus is a world-class multi-percussionist, originally inspired  by  the  rich  drumming  traditions  of  Puerto  Rico  and  the  teachings  and encouragement of great percussionists like Giovanni Hidalgo, Anthony Carrillo, Richie Flores and Paoli Mejias. Reinaldo  attended  the  University  of  Puerto  Rico,  the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, and Berklee College of Music. Reinaldo  has  worked with  a  wide  array  of  musicians  and  artists, including Antibalas, Sharon  Jones, Lauryn  Hill, William Cepeda and many, many more. In 2003, as part of the Kennedy Center Jazz  Ambassadors  Program,  Reinaldo  toured West  Africa  with Alto-Saxophonist,  Miguel  Zenon  and  the  Rhythm  Collective.  In  2006,

Tom Nazziola

Tom Nazziola is a composer and performer based in Brooklyn. Tom is  the musical director and composer for The BQE Project, a celebrated New York-based chamber ensemble known for its original compositions performed live-to-film throughout the world.  His music has been performed by ensembles including the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Bang on a Can, and the Eastman Percussion Ensemble. Tom has received commissions and awards from groups such as the  American Composer’s Forum, VocalEssence, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts and most recently the Samuel Adler Grand Prize (2020). As a performer, Tom has played with artists such as Rufus Reid, Dave Liebman, and Bob Brookmeyer. He’s played percussion on Broadway productions including Martin Short’s “Fame Becomes Me” and Disney’s “Newsies.” He’s recorded on the soundtrack for Paramount Picture’s “Mad Hot Ballroom” and on Disney’s “Baby Einstein” CDs and DVDs. Tom is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and holds a masters degree in composition from Brooklyn College and a Ph.D. in composition from Rutgers University.

Doron Lev

Doron Lev is a drummer/percussionist, vocalist, illustrator, and arts educator. He has recorded & performed with many artists such as Hip Hop legends Newcleus, Ski Beats, Beledo, Eyal Amir, Evil Giraffes on Mars, Uglybraine, & Esko Boogie to name a few. His music has appeared in award winning films such as “Don’t Let Me Drown”, directed by Angeles Cruz. Doron has been a cast member of “Break The Funk Spectacular!!”, “The Radio City Spring Spectacular”, “Through the Fire” Labyrinth Theater, & serves as MD for “Invincible” & Rennie Harris’ “Funkedified”. As an arts educator, he teaches percussive arts for American Composers Orchestra in NYC, & is on the teaching staff of University of West London, Zurich campus @Tanzwerk.

Sam Bardfeld

Violinist Sam Bardfeld is a member of The Jazz Passengers and a frequent collaborator of Bruce Springsteen’s. He has worked as a sideman with a long list of jazz, pop, folk and experimental acts including Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Calexico, Anthony Braxton, Henry Butler, Kris Davis, Savion Glover, Debbie Harry, John Cale, Steven Bernstein, Ingrid Laubrock, The String Trio of NY, The Red Clay Ramblers, Nancy Sinatra, Willie Colon, Dar Williams, Johnny Pacheco, and The Soldier String Quartet among others. Bardfeld’s latest recording, The Great Enthusiasms (BJUR, 2017), earned acclaim from top critics including Nate Chinen who called it “brilliantly odd and altogether lovely” (WBGO, 2017) and Bill Milkowski, who said he “combines a touch of Stuff Smith’s playfulness with a Charles Ives aesthetic – 4 Stars!” (Downbeat, 2017). His book, Latin Violin (Hal Leonard, 2002), is considered to be the authoritative work on the Afro-Cuban violin tradition. Bardfeld has also toured Europe multiple times with his own group.

J.L. (Jess) Marlor

J.L. (Jess) Marlor is a multidisciplinary artist, composer, songwriter, performer, and educator. Called “refreshingly bold” by Opera Wire, J.L. primarily writes chamber music, opera, musical theater, and contemporary classical music. Best known for her vocal music, J.L. has written for Wet Ink Ensemble, SparkDuo, The DeCamera Singers, Mivos Quartet, OperaRox, LoftOpera, and the New Music Gathering, J.L. creates multi-genre works involving, among others, Balkan folk techniques, musical theater, bel canto, riot grrrl punk, folk singing, and American protest music.As an electric guitarist, J.L. performs as the frontwoman of the indie rock band, THB, at venues such as Arlene’s Grocery, Union Pool, The Knitting Factory, and others.  J.L. also performs regularly as a singer and lead guitarist of the punk-rock musical turned concert experience, Riot Antigone, at La Mama, Ars Nova and Joe’s Pub. A passionate educator J.L. teaches composition and musicianship with the NY Phil’s Very Young Composer program, The Symphony of Westchester’s Songcatchers program, and the American Composers Orchestra.

Fabian Beltran

Fabian Beltran, composer and pianist, is a native of Columbia. His music combines elements of classical, contemporary, popular, and Latin American music. Fabian has won numerous awards including the Music Now competition, Russell Horn Composition Award, Reed Holmes Music Composition Award, Memphis Belvedere Chamber Music Award, and UTSA COLFA Music Awards. His music has been performed across the U.S., Asia, and Latin America at venues including Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust, Symphony Space and at festivals such as Atlantic Music, Fresh Inc, Soundscapes, Kansas City Electronic Music & Arts Alliance, Vox Novus, and Aquila Concert Series.  Recent projects include performances and recordings by the International Contemporary Ensemble and the JACK Quartet. Currently Fabian is a teaching assistant and a Ph.D. fellow at New York University.  Besides composing, Fabian is an educator,  performer, amateur painter, and one of the co-founders of Sforzando Composer’s Collective, dedicated to the creation of multidisciplinary works in New York City.

Lucy Yao

Trained as a pianist, teacher, composer, Lucy Yao allows music to go anywhere possible that is unexplored. By redefining grief as a source for uncovering and discovery, her work is created with an urgency to preserve memory and to illuminate joys hidden in the sounds of the everyday. As an educator, Lucy is a Teaching Artist at the American Composer’s Orchestra, and has led masterclasses internationally at the Gilmore Keys Fest, World Teachers Piano Association (WPTA), and throughout the U.S.   As a composer, she has discovered a passion for writing for dance with highlights including commissions from the Joffrey Ballet Contemporary School and Marymount College.  She is highly in demand as a collaborative pianist, holding positions at New York University, Interlochen Center for the Arts, the University of Michigan, and the Manhattan School of Music.

Trevor New

Trevor New is a composer, classically trained violist, technologist, and educator that explores many contexts through music, visuals, and storytelling. His current projects are focused on exploring how we are connected, how we can make music together, near or far, and how these connections can effect the time and space we see as separate. Apart from writing for orchestra and smaller ensembles his work as a sound designer, engineer/producer, and performer can be found in a variety of media, including film scores, arranging, electronic music, TV. Trevor designs pieces where he plays his viola using Ableton Live for looping and effects, and performs in-person or in real-time synchronized multi-location networked performances with people around the world.