Young Musicians Blossom In Baltimore's OrchKids Program : Deceptive Cadence For students in the program, "music becomes this vehicle for experiencing and envisioning themselves with lives filled with possibility," says Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop.

Young Musicians Blossom In Baltimore's OrchKids Program

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The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this year. In a performance of Ravel's "Bolero," they presented a few members of a new generation, yet players who were eager to take the music into a new century. They were members of the BSO's OrchKids program on stage at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to play right alongside the regular orchestra musicians.


MARIN ALSOP: Playing an instrument can be a vehicle to develop different skill sets that are essential to 21st-century living.

SIMON: That's Marin Alsop, one of our regular commentators who was perhaps better known as the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a founding director for OrchKids. The program was launched in 2008 with just 30 children from inner-city backgrounds. Now there are more than 1,000 in the program. But the maestra says that playing music professionally isn't the goal of orchids.

ALSOP: That will just be sort of a fringe benefit. That's not the point. I think the point is that music becomes this vehicle for experiencing and envisioning themselves with lives filled with possibility. When you walk into Lockerman Bundy and you hear these kids and you meet them, I mean, it's all about possibility.


DAN TRAHEY: "William Tell Overture," (unintelligible). Curtain up. OK? Here we go.


SIMON: OrchKids program director Dan Trahey leads a group of players in a rehearsal at the Lockerman Bundy Elementary School in West Baltimore.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we incorrectly identify Dan Trahey as program director of OrchKids. He is the artistic director.]

TRAHEY: It's funny because for one person, I'll say this is music program. And for the next person, I'll say it's a social program. Even within a family, it might be a musical program for one of their students - one of their kids. And for the other three, it's completely a social program. And what I mean by that is that a child can get a refinement on their instrument and be immersed in a musical culture without having to be a premier violinist.

SIMON: Mr. Trahey, do you have any - any reason to think that OrchKids has also affected the academic performance of these youngsters?

TRAHEY: I certainly do, yeah. We have a rigorous assessment that tells us that. We also have found that kids that immerse themselves in OrchKids show up to school more often.


SIMON: We're joined now by Asia Palmer who's a freshman at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Thanks very much for being with us.

ASIA PALMER: You're welcome.

SIMON: I want to take you back to 2008. The OrchKids program was just starting. A guy named Ari Shapiro visited the Harriet Tubman Elementary School. He met you because Dan Trahey led a group of kids through a rhythm exercise.


TRAHEY: Mississippi, hot dog. I like peas. I like peas.


ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: You guys looked so focused when you guys were doing those rhythms. Who can tell me what's going through your head while you're doing that? Asia, right?

PALMER: I was concentrating. And I was listening.


SIMON: How do you think OrchKids changed you, Asia Palmer?

PALMER: Well, if I haven't started this program, I wouldn't be at my school now. And I really enjoy my school. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to play the flute.

SIMON: Your mother Lynette Fields is there with you, right?


SIMON: Wonder if we can speak with her.

LYNETTE FIELDS: Yes. How you doing

SIMON: Hi, there, Ms. Fields. Thanks very much.


SIMON: And you're a community coordinator for OrchKids now, right?

FIELDS: Yes (laughter).

SIMON: How - what do you do there?

FIELDS: I go on the trip with the kids. I serve snacks and the dinner for the kids because they get dinner before they leave in the evening. After them being here all day long like that, I think it's good that we supply the dinner for them because some of the kids may not get a full dinner, you know, when they go home in the evening.


SIMON: Let's hear from another alum. Back in February, OrchKids members played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. At 13-year-old tuba player Keith Flemming addressed the audience in the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.


KEITH FLEMMING: When I was younger, I had no music experience. I didn't want to connect with people, and I didn't want to learn. Now I want to absorb more information every day. And OrchKids has taught me that.

FLEMMING: I used to be bad - really bad. And some teachers would kick me out of the class. And then I wouldn't be able to learn stuff. And I would be in the hallway sitting down. But when I joined OrchKids, I seen that when I learned more, I can do more in life.

SIMON: What do you want to be in the future?

FLEMMING: In the future, I want to start OrchKids programs around the world. I want to still play tuba, but I want to change kids' lives like my life has changed.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Flemming, it's been good to talk to you. Do you have a favorite tuba solo?

FLEMMING: Right now, my favorite tuba solo is "Suite For Tuba" by Don Haddad.


ALSOP: In all these kids, I see the same kind of passion that I see in our marvelous musicians at the Baltimore Symphony.

SIMON: Marin Alsop remembers the performance of Ravel's "Bolero" in February when Keith Flemming, Asia Palmer and 100 youngsters from OrchKids and the Biltmore Symphony Youth Orchestra took the stage.

ALSOP: You know, and when the audience leapt to their feet after the performance, I'm not sure there was a dry eye in the house. It was really exciting. But it also felt like an extension of this great symphony orchestra out into the community, to the next generations, to the communities that are underserved. And it just felt like, you know, there couldn't be a better place on the planet to be at that moment.


SIMON: You can see a video of that performance on our website

And who knows? - maybe one of the OrchKids could grow up to be the next BJ Leiderman. He writes our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I have always wanted to work with this theme. WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News - I'm Scott Simon.


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