Baltimore Orchestra Announces OrchKids

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra today unveiled a major education initiative, OrchKids, an after-school program designed to effect social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City’s low-income neighborhoods. In collaboration with a broad array of community partners, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program will provide music education, instruments and mentorship to Baltimore’s neediest youngsters.

Details of the program were announced this morning at a press conference at Harriet Tubman Elementary School (HTES), where the pilot year will commence in September 2008 with approximately 25 first graders.

Among the speakers were Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop; Baltimore City Public School System CEO Dr. Andres Alonso; Baltimore’s Deputy Mayor for Community and Human Development Dr. Salima Siler Marriott; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Paul Meecham; and HTES Principal Yvonne Cunion.

Under Music Director Marin Alsop’s artistic leadership and direction, OrchKids is a cornerstone of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s vision to expand the Orchestra’s relevance within the city’s broad and diverse community. To effectively implement OrchKids and to create a network of community support, the BSO is undertaking the program in partnership with several key local organizations, including the Baltimore City Public School System, The Peabody Institute, Arts Everyday, Baltimore School for the Arts and The Family League. Each partner organization will contribute its own expertise and unique resources to the program.

Commenting on the new program, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop said, “Since coming to Baltimore, one of my priorities has been to create a school program that combines music and mentorship to have a positive impact on Baltimore City youth. I believe passionately that music has the power to change lives, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra should lead the movement. By providing a strong foundation and developing the whole individual, we can position these students for lifelong success—success not limited to music, but in all areas of their lives. The community support for this program in the planning stages has been overwhelming. I know OrchKids will be successful because it is part of a larger vision for Baltimore’s future.”

OrchKids is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the music program that in 30 years has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in that country’s most impoverished areas. Like El Sistema, OrchKids is intended not only to provide musical instruments and training, but to address some of the pervasive social challenges effecting underserved youth. To this end, the BSO’s OrchKids program will use music to cultivate fundamental life skills such as self?expression, cooperative learning, discipline and creativity, all of which have been linked to improved social and academic outcomes. The program, which will be offered to children at no charge, will fill a gap in affordable, quality after?school care in the city of Baltimore.

Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System, remarked that “OrchKids is a tremendous opportunity for the students at Harriet Tubman Elementary School. This is exactly the kind of enrichment and partnership with Baltimore’s cultural institutions we want for all of our students.” Funding for the planning phase and first year of OrchKids is made possible through the generous support of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker. Music Director Marin Alsop has committed $100,000, structured as a four-to-one matching gift, intended to motivate and inspire others in the community to provide additional support to sustain the OrchKids program through the critical first few years of implementation and growth.

To launch and facilitate this new initiative, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has hired Dan Trahey as the OrchKids’ program manager. Mr. Trahey has been active in the planning stages of OrchKids, working closely with the BSO’s senior leadership to cultivate community partners throughout the city and establish the program’s curriculum. In addition to overseeing program operations, Mr. Trahey will manage a part?time staff of professional music instructors and program assistants. Most recently the community manager for the Hartford Symphony and the program coordinator for the Peabody Institute’s Tuned?In initiative, Mr. Trahey holds a bachelor’s of education from the Peabody Institute and a master’s of music from Yale University.

OrchKids Program Model

Beginning in September 2008, approximately 25 first graders from West Baltimore’s Harriet Tubman Elementary School will participate in OrchKids. Students, who will be known as OrchKids, will participate in the program three days per week, receiving music instruction and taking part in enrichment activities. Music curriculum will be based on “active learning” principles, and will incorporate age-appropriate games and activities to teach music fundamentals and to develop musicianship. In the second half of the school year, students will be introduced to different musical instruments, and before the end of the year, they will choose their own instrument and begin lessons. Enrichment activities will be designed to teach students about their communities, develop social and leadership skills, and bridge cultural divides. See press kit for OrchKids sample week.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s community partners will play an integral role in the design and success of OrchKids, and some have begun planning for performances and other activities that will be central to the OrchKids experience. Activities will include trips to local cultural institutions, community improvement projects and visits from local leaders. The program will also encourage parental involvement in the children’s development through family?oriented social activities, including opportunities for families to hear Baltimore Symphony concerts. The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will support OrchKids through open rehearsals, BSO on the Go presentations and school visits, and pre- and post-concert “meet and greets.”

The OrchKids program will grow as the students grow: the inaugural class is expected to continue in the program through the fifth grade and each year a new class of first graders will enter the program. As children become musically proficient, older children will be encouraged to mentor their younger counterparts, creating a self-perpetuating system in which leadership skills and cooperative relationships are fostered.

Research suggests that students participating in after-school and arts programs experience significant positive improvements in social, academic and behavioral outcomes (“The Impact of Arts Education on Workforce Preparation,” May 2002, The National Governors Association). With oversight from The Family League, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plans detailed, regular tracking of each student’s academic, social and musical progress throughout his or her involvement with the program.

“We’re all hopeful that the children who participate in OrchKids will do better in school, and grow musically,” said Marin Alsop. “But the real measure of this program will be whether these children do better in life.” -- www.baltimoresymphony.org

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