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How a Music Education Program Is Transforming Lives in Philadelphia

Play On, Philly is an innovative music program modeled after Venezuela’s network of youth orchestras known as "El Sistema." Curtis Institute of Music graduate Stanford Thompson first brought the program to 4th through 8th graders attending St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia in 2010. Two years later, it expanded to include students at Freire Charter Middle School in Center City.

The program embodies an approach to social change based on rigorous daily music instruction. There are many opportunities to perform, and in-depth exposure to orchestras, individual musical masters, and adult role models. Sir Simon Rattle, Wynton Marsalis, and Anthony McGill are among those who’ve paid visits to Play On, Philly.

On a rainy Tuesday in January, Play On, Phillystudents came to a rehearsal in the auditorium of West Catholic Preparatory High School in West Philadelphia.  They were joined by members of Orchestra 2001 to rehearse for a concert of new music in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Clarinetist Anthony McGill was there to rehearse a spiritual medley with the kids and a new piece by composer Richard Danielpour.  The concert will take place at Swarthmore College on Sunday, January 26th at 3 pm.


Anthony McGill, principal clarinet in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on what he hopes to demonstrate and impart to Play On, Philly students.

Eighth grader Nazir plays the double bass and also worked on the students’ first composition “Symphony in the Key of Unity."