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Play On, Philly! An After-School Music Program That's Changing Lives

Music lives in Center City, Philadelphia, home of Play On, Philly!, a program modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema, in which underserved children are taught to play classical music. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the program is as much about social change as it is about music. On Giving Tuesday, your pledge to WRTI will be matched by an anonymous donor in support of Play On, Philly! Pledge Here, and thanks so much!

Learn more about what compelled Curtis trumpet player Stanford Thompson to shift his career goals and start Play On, Philly!

Radio script:

Susan Lewis: Pictures at an Exhibition was the music behind a life-changing moment for trumpet player Stanford Thompson, who was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music rehearsing the Mussorgsky work with visiting conductor Simon Rattle.

Stanford Thompson: He finally stopped the orchestra and he said, you guys sound like robots. Everything’s perfect, mechanical, in tune. He said, there’s a group of students in Venezuela who could outplay you all any day.

SL: After graduating from Curtis, Thompson went to Venezuela to study El Sistema. He returned to  Philadelphia, and founded Play On, Philly!, which he describes as a social program.

ST: I think putting kids in an orchestra, having them play with one another, is one of the best ways for them to co-exist in the same space. For them all to have a voice, but not be a jumble of noise. I also think it can build a lot of pride within each child, within their families, and within the community. That’s the main goal of what we do.

SL: Music, says Thompson, is an ideal vehicle to teach the kind of responsibility that can change lives.

ST: It’s the only art form that I know that you can put 100 people in a room with a common goal. Even on a spiritual level, there are things you can’t really express in words, and I think that emotion can come out of these instruments. That’s why I think music is unique.

SL: Play On, Philly! currently has 35 teaching artists, working with 275 students at three city schools.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.