In many District and charter schools throughout Philadelphia, art and music programs have disappeared due to budget cuts. But thanks to a new partnership launched between the Philadelphia Orchestra’s School Ensemble Program and KIPP Philadelphia Schools, students in KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School and KIPP West Philadelphia Elementary Academy will have access to the orchestra and its musicians, instruments, and innovative music education programs, all while further engaging them in the arts.
The announcement of the partnership was marked recently at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School with a visit from the orchestra’s Music Alive composer-in-residence, Hannibal Lokumbe.
A classical composer and jazz trumpeter, Lokumbe talked to the students about the importance of art and music and how African American history and civil rights activists like Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer inspired him to tell their stories through music. After he spoke, students were treated to a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s quartet playing Fannie Lou Hamer, a piece composed by Lokumbe, and sung by vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch.
The students appeared to be drawn to the music and constantly praised the musicians by wiggling their fingers, a silent version of cheers and applause.
“The students here are truly amazing. They’re eager to learn about music, and we’re honored to provide this invaluable opportunity to them,” said Peter Oswald, a music teacher at KIPP.
The partnership mainly focuses on KIPP West Philadelphia Elementary Academy, which now serves only kindergarten students, but plans to grow to a K-4 school, and KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School, which serves grades 5-8.
Kindergartners will receive singing lessons, and 5th-grade students will have access to 50 quality instruments and music lessons.
Students who participate in KIPP’s School Ensemble Program are eligible to receive free instruments through the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Buy One, Give One” instrument exchange program. Through this program, one instrument will go to a student either in KIPP or a Philadelphia District school for every violin, viola, and cello purchased from an Eastman Music Co. instrument line called La Scala, which was specifically developed for the program. The partnership between the orchestra and Eastman Music is a highlight of the orchestra’s HEAR program, launched in 2016, which promotes health, music education, and music awareness in Philadelphia.
Although the ensemble program primarily focuses on the KIPP West Philadelphia schools, representatives from the orchestra said that they are open to having students from the three other KIPP Philadelphia Schools hear rehearsals and other performances.
The program eventually will expand to serve all 860 students in both KIPP West Philadelphia Prep and KIPP Elementary Academy, allowing them to learn to play an instrument. Oswald said that he hopes to have a full orchestra one day.
“With this partnership, we hope to expand to a full orchestra to expose students to not just string instruments, but also to the brass family and the woodwinds,” Oswald said.
“Our main goal is for every student in the school, from kindergarten to the 8th grade, to learn how to play a musical instrument, because music isn’t selective – it’s for everyone.”
Alanna Mitchell, a consultant for KIPP Philadelphia Schools, said that music encourages students to succeed in the future and brings people of different ages together.
“Music is another outlet for students to help them expand their minds and work together,” Mitchell said. “It gives children the creative power to not only dream, but to dream and build their future together.”
Big smiles appeared on the students’ faces when Lokumbe and the orchestra musicians sat in for their “master class,” which included 5th-grade violinists, violists, and cellists. The students performed “We Shall Overcome,” accompanied by the kindergarten choir.
Philadelphia Orchestra violinists Kimberly Fisher and William Polk, violist Kerri Ryan, and cellist John Koen played beside the students and gave them pointers on how to improve their bow control and sound clarity.
Creating music can help students learn several things, said Allison Vulgamore, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, which handles education, community outreach, and diversifying the orchestra's audience.
“Our partnership with KIPP will allow students to foster individualism, but also teach them the discipline and organization needed to work as a team and as a full orchestra,” said Vulgamore.
“Philadelphia has a very rich cultural scene, and we want to encourage these young minds to continue this vibrant culture.”