Adjusting the Sails

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails. – John Maxwell

I look back on my relationship with classical music and the years it took me to get hooked: years of trumpet lessons with a mentor that I looked up to, years of attending Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performances and developing the curiosity to stay awake for an entire performance, years of opportunities of playing in ensembles and performing throughout the metro-Atlanta area and the pride my family had for my accomplishments. So who’s got the time to complain and wait for the wind to cooperate (a miracle), when we can take the experiences we all have and adjust the sails? This blog is about my journey to figure out how to share my love for classical music with those that have no idea that they actually love it.

I know that 99.8% of the classical music industry’s problems can be solved by making a big list of what encouraged the pessimists, optimists, and leaders to fall in love with classical music and providing that same experience to young children. If we spend the next twenty years thinking about them, they just might care when we start thinking about “us”. I grew up with supportive parents and mentors who were thinking about me and I forgot all of that as I started my professional studies at The Curtis Institute of Music. Quickly, it became about “me” and I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror at what I had become and I searched very diligently until I learned about El Sistema. I knew then, I wanted to be a leader in this growing field of El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States and share my love for classical music with young people in a meaningful way.

Since August 2011, I’ve been leading an El Sistema-inspired program in West Philadelphia called Play On, Philly! (POP). We currently engage 110 children for three hours EACH weekday throughout the school year and a majority of the summer. We employ sixteen of the regions finest musicians and educators as Teaching Artists and the children perform about twenty-five concerts each season. We’ve raised over $1.4 million since inception and will open a second site in Philadelphia in the 2012-2013 season. The kids have collaborated with conductors and artists like Marin Alsop, Rossen Milanov, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Borromeo Quartet, and Chestnut Brass. The POP Symphony Orchestra will make it’s Kimmel Center debut with Sir Simon Rattle in April 2012 and perform at the Mann Center and Curtis Institute by the end of the season.

Let me be clear – these kids have been playing for less than two years and the notes they play aren’t perfect. However, the notes they play have a lot of meaning and are supported with a lot of pride from mom and dad. Their performance in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall will mark the beginning to a new era of classical music in Philadelphia and a greater sense of dignity for our art creating better human beings.

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