Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kids : Our Future

A couple of Saturdays ago I had an unusual break in my usual day-long teaching schedule at the Peabody Preparatory, where I teach violin and coach chamber music and the strings of the Peabody Youth Orchestra. My youngest son, who takes cello lessons and group cello class there, also had a break in his schedule, and, since he has been talking about his desire to repeat our summer trip on Baltimore's free downtown bus, the Circulator, I decided it was time for a fun ride. We walked a few blocks south on St. Paul, toward the Inner Harbor, turned east on Baltimore Street, then sat on a bench on Charles to wait for the Purple Bus to take us back to Mt. Vernon Square. He kept updating me on the bus stop display, alternately looking in the other direction to check on the street how accurate the sign is ("2 minutes away, 1 minute away, arriving"). It finally arrived (I had gotten a bit tired of the updates), and we boarded it. Even though he has been in many different modes of public transportation in his short life, including his favorite electric tramways in my native Belgrade, he still gets pretty excited when he gets the chance to use one. He looked around, wide-eyed, at his fellow passengers and the streets-cape that was passing us by, then, with great aplomb, pressed the "stop requested" button as we started climbing the small hill by Peabody. A half hour later he was all concentration, tongue slightly sticking out of a corner of his mouth, busily trying to match the speed of his teacher's bow in the group class, playing several pieces by memory, even advising his fellow students on proper technique.

Kids his age, some younger and some older, were also on the Meyerhoff stage on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, playing their debut with the BSO in front of adoring Moms, Dads and siblings, as well as out regular audience. They come from areas of the city where even the free Circulator bus is not an option for a bit of fun because, simply, there may not be anyone available to take them downtown, as both parents might be working most of the day (and some at night). But that didn't stop them from attending the classes of the Bucket Brigade, a beginner percussion program, or later switching to cello, violin or flute, after their regular Elementary school classes, as part of BSO OrchKids program. For those of you that don't know, it's based on an extremely successful program in Venezuela, called El Sistema, which has by now created thousands of kids that play in hundreds of youth orchestras across that underdeveloped country. There are only a couple more such programs in the United States so far. And I say so far, in spite of the recent calls for cutting of public funding for arts in schools, non-profit organizations, and such. The fact is that arts bring millions of dollars to our cities' economies, and without them they could not survive. But, even if not a single of the OrchKids children ends up in the music field as part of their lives, or takes up an instrument to play it again, or even becomes one of our patrons, they will have developed life-long skills of team play, discipline, long-term work that pays off in small increments, patience, and too many more to mention here that they can't get any other way. Their brains will also develop in such way that will increase their success in other fields (and we don't need studies to prove that, OrchKids have the stats if you want to see them).

So let's stop and think where our efforts and money should go. More arenas and stadiums, so that we can subsidize multi-million dollar contracts that our sports teams demand, or concert halls and opera houses where orchestras are falling one by one with minimal support from our government.

Thank you all who have contributed to the BSO over the last almost 100 years of its existence, and let's help it reach its centennial with the musicians and staff on solid financial ground, so we can continue to entertain, and, yes, educate our children.

They are truly our future.

-Ivan Stefanovic

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