Thurnauer School of Music

We Came to America

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Celebrating the American experience through a multigenerational arts, education, and community engagement project featuring the premiere of a composition for chorus and orchestra by Rob Kapilow. Inspired by the art and writing of Faith Ringgold.

About We Came to America

Commissioned by the JCC Thurnauer School of Music and composed by the school’s artist-in-residence, Rob Kapilow, We Came to America will have its world premiere on Saturday, January 20, 2024, at NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark; and on Sunday, January 21, 2024, at Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. 

 We Came to America will serve as the Thurnauer School of Music’s major, annual fundraising event of the year. The proceeds will support the school’s mission to make high-quality music education available to all who wish to study music. Support for this project will expand our outreach in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to inspire a nationwide conversation about the value and place of immigrants in the country’s past, present, and future.  

The project is inspired by Faith Ringgold’s 2016 children’s book, We Came to America, and by the spirit of her words: “We came to America, every color, race, and religion, from every country in the world.” We Came to America is an innovative and collaborative musical work about the history and experience of immigrating to America. The breadth of this project integrates community outreach, explores and celebrates diversity, and strives to promote inclusive and equitable educational opportunities through the transformative power of music. 

There are several components to We Came to America, including: 

  1. The world premiere of a five-movement musical work for chorus and orchestra entitled, We Came to America, which interprets the immigration experience and the value of diversity and inclusion in America.
  2. An educational curriculum for students of all ages and backgrounds about the value and role of immigrants and diversity in our country.
  3. A research study has been funded to analyze the impact of We Came to America on its participants.
  4. A We Came to America music education scholarship fund for students who wish to study music but lack the financial resources to do so.

 Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 

From Generation to Generation

Intergenerational community engagement is at the heart of We Came to America. Since the project’s inception in 2019, we have conducted remarkable and fascinating intergenerational interviews with families from culturally diverse backgrounds sharing their unique histories, heritage, reflections, poems, and stories of coming to America. These interviews not only humanize the immigrant experience in extraordinary ways but often provided an opportunity for children to hear their parents’ or grandparents’ stories for the first time. The recording of these memories is an important and meaningful way for families to share their stories for generations to come.  

We Came to America is neither political nor a comment on immigration policies.  It acknowledges our history and recognizes and honors the varied and nuanced experiences of millions of people who came to America.  It is our hope that through the art of music, We Came to America can be a vehicle to bring us all together and inspire multigenerational, family and community-wide discussions about individual and family experiences.   

Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 

The Premiere

The Premiere, as part of the New Jersey Symphony’s 2023-2024 Concert Season, will include Kapilow conducting the New Jersey Symphony and feature:

  • The Young People’s Chorus @ Thurnauer
  • The Young People’s Chorus of New York City®, founded by Francisco J. Núñez, recipient of a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation
  • Ember Choral Arts coordinated by the New Jersey Symphony

The full program for January 20 and 21, 2024 is entitled “The American Dream,” with details below:


Concert Information

Xian Zhang conductor
Rob Kapilow conductor (We Came to America)
JCC Young People’s Chorus @ Thurnauer
Young People’s Chorus of New York City®
New Jersey Symphony
Ember Choral Arts

William Grant Still, Darker America
Still wrote this in the 1920s to depict the struggles of his fellow African Americans, ultimately aiming to show “the triumph of a people over their sorrows through fervent prayer.” Tenderness and toughness mark this moving testament to resilience.

Rob Kapilow, We Came to America (World Premiere, Commissioned by the Thurnauer School of Music at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades)
In this nation of immigrants, we all have our stories. Inspired by in-depth source research, interviews with generations of immigrants, and melodies from many countries, composer Rob Kapilow has crafted an instant classic of compelling music for chorus and orchestra.

Leonard Bernstein, Three Dances Episodes from On the Town
The musical that gave the world “New York, New York,” On the Town was a hit from its wartime premiere. The story of three sailors on leave in Manhattan is filled with Bernstein’s signature restless energy and made huge waves of its own in the 1940s with a racially diverse cast.

Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
The tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set on Manhattan’s fire escapes and sidewalks. These Symphonic Dances from West Side Story are a fountain of songs you love, from “Tonight” to “Maria” and the manic shout of “Mambo!”

Message From Composer

A message from the composer, 
Rob Kapilow distinguished composer, conductor, award-winning author, and the creator of the What Makes It Great?® series for NPR and PBS 

I wanted this piece to focus not only on the present but also the past in order to put our current immigration situation in a broad historical perspective as the issues of how we welcome or exclude others have been with us since Biblical times. That it should be both abstract and specific. After researching the entire history of immigration in America, it was clear that we have swung back and forth between what I think of as exclusionary and inclusionary versions of America. We seemed to be the most welcoming when our country’s sense of self was strongest, and the most exclusionary in times of national self-doubt. I wanted both aspects to be represented in the piece. 

Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 


Supportive educational materials developed by Marjorie LoPresti of Wise Music will explore the themes of the music, reflect collaboration with the composer drawing upon his research, and include resources on the immigrant experience through music and the visual arts.  Wherever possible, the composer will be available in person and online to engage directly with audiences, from the youngest to the oldest, and discuss the piece itself, the process of composing it, and the power of the arts to move people towards a better understanding of each other.  
The curriculum will include:   

  • Curricular units of five lessons each for elementary,  intermediate, and secondary grade levels. 
  • PDF publication of lesson materials for distribution via multiple channels  
  • Online, multimedia course access via MusicFirst, the digital education division of Wise Music.  

Note: Wise Music is the parent company of both  G. Schirmer and Music First. 

Sample of lessons to be taught are entitled*:   

  • Lesson 1: What is Immigration? 
  • Lesson 2: Immigrants in Our Community (Tell Me Your Story)  
  • Lesson 3: Being an Immigrant 
  • Lesson 4: Immigration in Art  
  • Lesson 5: What Did You Hear?     

*Detailed information on lesson plans available upon request  

Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 


A research component has been funded and is being led by Dr. William Chaplin and his team at St. John’s University will build upon both the performance and educational experiences connected to the project. Further information on the research study as well as its findings will be reported and made publicly available at its conclusion. 

Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 


JCC Thurnauer School of Music   

The Thurnauer School of Music, located at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, is renowned as a center of artistic and educational excellence open to all. Membership at the JCC is not required for participation or financial assistance at the Thurnauer School of Music.  

Since 1984, under the direction of Dorothy Kaplan Roffman, the school has inspired thousands of students and families—transforming lives and sharing the joys of music. Through outstanding instruction, concerts, master classes, community events, and partnerships with local schools, Thurnauer offers opportunities for everyone in our community—from infants to seniors—to connect with the world of music.  

At Thurnauer, over 400 students are immersing themselves each year in the love and study of music, mentored by an extraordinary faculty. With the challenges faced over the past few years, it is gratifying to know that we are helping to develop healthy, resilient children to grow socially, musically and academically, and become successful members of a global community. Providing opportunities to learn about music has been an important, guiding principle of our school since its founding. In that spirit, our We Came to America project raises important scholarship funds for children who wish to study music, but whose families may lack the financial resources. This year, 34% of students taking private lessons received need-based financial assistance.  

Proceeds from We Came to America will provide the financial assistance needed to ensure a student’s continued pursuit of musical excellence and will make a difference in our ability to expand programming with partner schools, arts organizations and community groups.  

The Young People’s Chorus @ Thurnauer 
In September 2009, the Young People’s Chorus @ Thurnauer (YPC@T), led by Emma Brondolo, was established as an affiliate of the award-winning Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Francisco J. Núñez, recipient of a 2011 MacArthur “Genius” Award and winner of the 2019 ASCAP Award, is the Founding Director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City which shares its mission of bringing together children of diverse backgrounds and abilities to create unique choral experiences and foster cultural understanding, friendship, and a love of music. YPC@T comprises the Prelude, Concert and Amani Choirs at the Thurnauer School and includes satellite choirs in the Englewood Public Schools, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the Elisabeth Morrow School. YPC@T has performed at numerous venues including the 92nd Street Y in New York, The Lillian Booth Actors Home, The High-Note Music Festival and the Music in the Parks choral competition. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, YPC@T sang at the American Young Voices performance with 8,000 other choristers at the Prudential Center in Newark and won first place and overall best chorus in the Elementary and Middle School Divisions at Music in the Parks. In 2018 YPC@T made its debut performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Chorus Festival and in December 2018, the YPC@T sang the national anthem at the New York Knicks game in Madison Square Garden. In 2019 members of the chorus participated in the YPC National Studio and Lab program at Lee University in Tennessee and Santa Barbara, California. YPC@T also established a choral friendship with Westminster Choir College of Rider University and UCONN. 

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City    

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City (YPC) is an internationally renowned multicultural youth chorus founded by Artistic Director Francisco J. Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow and Musical America’s 2018 Educator of the Year. YPC’s mission and values are deeply rooted in an innovative model of diversity, which provides children of all cultural and economic backgrounds with a unique program of music education and choral performance. 

Its artists’ superb virtuosity and brilliant showmanship have garnered many awards, including America’s highest honor for youth programs, a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, presented at the White House. YPC also earned the distinction of “Choir of the World” in July 2018 at the International Choral Kathaumixw (Powell River, British Columbia), marking the first time a North American chorus has ever won this title in the 34-year history of Kathaumixw. 

New Jersey Symphony 

A world-class orchestra with local roots, creative programming in concerts throughout the state and service to the community through education, these values have been the hallmark of the New Jersey Symphony since its inception nearly 100 years ago. Through adventurous performances, hands-on educational experiences, and robust community programming, New Jersey Symphony encourages everyone to enjoy the power and creativity of orchestral music in all its forms. Across genres and venues, for audiences of all walks of life, NJ Symphony strives to bring music that best reflects and serves its vibrant communities. 

Ember Choral Arts  

Since 1995, Ember Choral Arts (formerly known as Schola Cantorum on Hudson) has grown in depth and influence. It performs its full season in both Manhattan and New Jersey and enjoys international recognition, particularly for its work in advocacy of new choral music. Fundamental to Ember’s core values is the belief that music has a unique power to affect the human heart and soul, inviting each of us to become fully aware, mindful individuals. It is part of Ember’s mission to extend the role of art beyond that of its own intrinsic value, leveraging it to bring visibility and expansive thinking to issues of human significance. This is accomplished through innovative programming designed to touch lives; leadership through the promotion of new music, and meaningful engagement with young singers. Led by its founding artistic director, Dr. Deborah Simpkin King, Ember has many achievements including the invitational world premiere of a major work in Salzburg during the Salzburg Festival, collaborations with New Jersey Symphony, a four-concert tour of Italian opera choruses, Video Games Live, and recognition and funding by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. 

Contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 for more information. 

Join Us


Review the full sponsorship opportunities and join this unique and important initiative. You may also contact Alison Rubach at or 201.618.3180 to discuss any aspects of the project.  

Thank you for your consideration and support!