Monday, October 18, 2021

After the riots, music brings kids normalcy


Karen Seward, a volunteer teacher for the OrchKids program from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, shares an experience about this long-running during- and after-school program that creates social change and nurtures promising futures for young people in Baltimore City neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray grew up.

Her inspiring story was published by the National Association for Music Education and appears in the organization’s online newsletter, here. Less than two weeks after riots ripped apart the people who live or work in Baltimore, she writes:

The site that I teach at on Wednesdays and Thursdays is about five or ten blocks from the riots and looting in Baltimore. … I will be honest, I was uneasy and apprehensive about going there yesterday. It was the first day that we were open since the terrible violence. The teacher in me knew that these kids and this community needed and deserved normalcy and music making, but, the pessimist in me said, “Don’t go.”

I went. … Here’s what happened:

I have been working with this group all year. They are learning Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” on recorder. I taught it to them singing the solfege (do, re, do mi, …) and hand signs first. I had the recording playing in the classroom as I greeted them at the door. But, I heard them BEFORE I saw them.

There they were, standing in a perfectly straight line, singing in the most angelic voices and signing—even before I stepped outside. They heard the recording and just started doing that on their own. The music brought normalcy, calm, and joy to their faces. And it brought tears to mine! They smiled when they saw me and sang with even more gusto. I just stood there with tears welling up in my eyes.

OrchKids, as we have written before, is the brainchild of Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s music director. She’s committed to connecting the orchestra more closely with the community through this program, which she founded in 2008, using part of her MacArthur “genius” award to seed the effort.

OrchKids was inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, a program that has used music to change the lives of thousands of children living in poverty. Although most of the public elementary schools in Baltimore City have no music program, OrchKids works in several Title I schools in the city to spark development across all facets of the young people’s lives. Starting at the pre-K level with in-school “bucket bands,” students progress in the first grade to after-school classes, where they’re introduced to string and wind instruments. In second grade, students can choose an instrument and take it home to practice.

“I’m just trying to find a decent melody, a song that I can sing in my own company,” they sing from the U2 hit “Stuck in a Moment.” “Don’t say that later will be better. You got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.”

Here’s once again hoping that Baltimore’s young people don’t get stuck in a moment of tragedy and move on to lives of making positive contributions to our communities.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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