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Opening Doors for Multicultural Classical Music Students in Philadelphia

A new education program in Philadelphia is creating unique opportunities for aspiring classical music students from diverse backgrounds, with the ultimate goal of bridging cultural gaps in the classical music industry. It was born of an uncommon level of cooperation, in a city that has an abundance of fine programs for budding classical musicians.

The Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) Artists’ Initiative is an effort to broaden access to the world of professional classical music. Settlement Music School CEO Helen Eaton says the landmark program, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is the first of its kind in the country.

Seventy-five young musicians from 5th grade through high school will be PMAY Artists this year. In 2018 and 2019 their numbers will grow. Ten organizations are part of the three-year Artists’ Initiative: Settlement Music School, Musicopia, Philadelphia Sinfonia, Temple University Music Preparatory Division, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, The Primavera Fund, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Project 440, Play On Philly, and The School District of Philadelphia.

Artists involved in the inaugural class of PMAY

Radio script:

Meridee Duddleston: Earlier this summer, the Mayor’s Reception room in Philadelphia City Hall pulsated with the energy of young musicians.

David Hiester:  My name’s Davey Hiester. I’m from the Philadelphia Orchestra fellowship. I’m also in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra and All City Orchestra. Yeah.   

MD: This West Philly bassoon player is in a novel mentoring program developed by The Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth, a collaborative of music education organizations on a mission to re-envision the future. Settlement Music School’s Helen Eaton says the goal is to create more diversity in professional classical music.

Helen Eaton:  We talk about students from under-represented communities in professional classical music.  That is, students who are African American, Latino, South Asian, students who come from very low-income families. It’s a broad definition, and one that is really important for the future of classical music.

MD: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Assistant Principal Bass Joseph Conyers, who also directs All-City Orchestra, is an African American who grew up in Savannah, Georgia. He says different life experiences outside the concert hall create something invaluable inside.

Joseph Conyers: For example, I grew up in gospel music. When you bring all these experiences together it actually makes the music better.

MD: The Mellon-funded "Artists’ Initiative" provides support for music camp, lessons, individual instruction plans, and college preparation. Philadelphia’s Chief Cultural Officer Kelly Lee says it’ll bridge a cultural gap.  

Kelly Lee: Regardless of whether or not they end up becoming classical musicians, this experience will change the rest of their lives.

MD: Beyond the concert hall, or on stage at the Kimmel Center.