OrchKids: Planting Seeds for a Bright Future


OrchKids: Planting Seeds for a Bright Future

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Inc.
1212 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: 410.783-8018
Fax: 410.783.8004
E-Mail: ncohen@bsomusic.org
URL: www.bsomusic.org/orchkids

Focus: Music

Annual Number Participating: 735

Ages: Elementary, Middle School, High School

Annual Budget: $1,105,206.00

Partners: Baltimore City Public School System; Baltimore School for the Arts; Rebuilding Through Art Program (RAP); The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University; University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

Funders: League of American Orchestras & The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation; Marin Alsop; Maryland State Arts Council; National Endowment for the Arts; Mr. Robert E. Meyerhoff & Rheda Becker; PNC Financial Services Group

On the stage of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) Music Director Marin Alsop raises her baton, leans forward, and catches the eye of the young musicians seated in front of her. As she counts to three, the elementary school-age children raise their bows, ready their mallets, and launch into a rhythmic piece. Completely charmed, the audience of serious music lovers is accustomed to hearing selections delivered with a little more polish, but rarely this much exuberance.

The chance to occasionally play with the BSO is one of the amazing perks for participants in the BSO’s OrchKids™ program, who live in some of Baltimore’s most challenged neighborhoods. Committed to connecting the orchestra more closely with the community, Alsop founded the program in 2008, using part of her MacArthur Fellowship stipend to seed the effort. OrchKids draws its inspiration from Venezuela’s El Sistema, a program that has employed music to improve the lives of thousands of children living in poverty.

OrchKids currently works in four Title I schools in West and East Baltimore, where it sparks development across all facets of the young people’s lives through an intense involvement in music. The program’s fifth site, its first dedicated middle school program, will launch in January 2014. Starting at the Pre-K level with in-school musicianship classes, students progress in the first grade to an intensive after-school program, where they’re introduced to “bucket bands,” choir, and string and wind instruments. In the second grade, students can choose an instrument to hone their study and call their own, which includes taking it home to practice their lessons. OrchKids runs its after-school program five days a week during the school year and for a month in the summer. OrchKids grows with its participants, following them into the next grade, while welcoming a new Pre-K class each year. After launching in 2008, OrchKids oldest “veterans” are now in the seventh and eighth grades. It is OrchKids’ vision to continue to expand, growing with and seeing its students graduate from high school.

Professional musicians and conservatory students teach group lessons. As the OrchKids participants become adept at playing an instrument, they also learn “to show up on time with a can-do attitude,” skills that are translating into higher grades and better school attendance, notes Dan Trahey, OrchKids Artistic Director. Parents see changes at home as well. In an OrchKids video, one parent commented: “I believe this is the only program in Baltimore where you can actually watch your children grow up.” He also revealed that his shy daughter had “come to life” through music.

Parents have been so impressed with their children’s musical progress that they want lessons, too. OrchKids now has a parents’ choir and will soon start a parents’ orchestra, states Trahey.

[OrchKids] has exceeded my expectations, in every way. I see the music in my kids, and I see them becoming better people.

Lynette Fields Parent of two OrchKids participants, as quoted in an article in Baltimore magazine