Three minutes with Ilya Levitin
Ilya Levitin, 43, makes a career of introducing children to a new language: music. With cellos, violas and violins as his tools, he teaches third and fourth grade New Canaan elementary school students how to listen, read and play notes on a page.
"It's wonderful," he said. "It's a discovery for them. It's great to watch them make discoveries in how to express themselves."
Levitin, a Norwalk resident, got his own start in music as a 7-year-old student in Moscow, his native country. At that young age, he said his teachers decided he would become a cellist.
"Cello was my major since I was seven -- they never asked me," he said, breaking to release a long laugh. "I took an aptitude test, and then they just looked at my hand and they said, `cello.' I didn't have a choice -- but I give my students a choice."
Levitin brought music with him when he moved from Russia to New York City in 1989.
"I taught [music] in Stamford for a few years, and when I was there I learned there are kids who come to school who live in a shelter," he said. "They go to school, but after, they don't go to a home -- they go to a shelter. I was shocked that this is a reality here. It really stuck with me."
For the last seven years, Levitin has taught strings to students in New Canaan. And for the last two months, he has taught strings to homeless children who live at The Open Door Shelter in Norwalk.
Levitin volunteers his talent and his Saturday mornings at the shelter where he said nine children meet him, eager to learn how to make music.
The students play instruments that Levitin totes along for them to share. He said he pools money he earns playing concerts in New York toward funding instruments for the children to have of their own. And though the growing pool of Saturday morning music students is far greater than the strings between them, the weekly lesson is something the children are "really excited about," Levitin said.
"In my mind, I love that I can go there and give them what my kids here [in New Canaan] have," he said.