The Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) named 75 rising 5th- through 12th-grade musicians in its first cohort of PMAY Artists on Wednesday. The students, who are mostly from communities that are underrepresented in classical music, were honored at a gathering at City Hall with Mayor Kenney and Chief Cultural Officer Kelly Lee.
The PMAY Artists’ Initiative strives to increase diversity in the professional classical music field. Today, less than 5 percent of musicians in professional U.S. orchestras are African American or Latino, with similarly low statistics for South Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives.
Joseph Conyers, who is music director of the District’s All City Orchestra, executive director of Project 440, and assistant principal bass in the Philadelphia Orchestra, stressed the importance of diversity in classical music during his remarks at Wednesday’s event.
“Classical music is for everyone. Access to music should be universal,” Conyers said.
“With programs like the PMAY Artists’ Initiative, it won’t be long until orchestras across the country will be reflections of the diverse group of musicians before me today. The diversity of your experiences makes the music better.”
In an effort to provide these students with the tools they need to become professional classical musicians, PMAY will provide them financial support for lessons, music classes, youth orchestra participation, and summer music camps. They will also have the opportunity to attend free college and career preparation workshops and receive mentoring from PMAY teachers and staff.
The initiative is funded by a $2.532 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Settlement Music School will lead the program, with nine other PMAY partners: Musicopia, Philadelphia Sinfonia, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Play On, Philly!, Project 440, School District of Philadelphia Office of Music Education, Temple University Music Preparatory Division, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Primavera Fund.
“The PMAY Arts Initiative helps to remove barriers these students face so they can achieve the highest level of mastery of their instruments,” said Helen Eaton, CEO of the Settlement Music School.
“By creating an ecosystem of support for the students, we hope that we can guide them towards success in classical music.”
“I’m a big fan of the expression ‘it takes a village,’" Conyers said to the PMAY Artists. "Along with parents and families, PMAY is part of that village for you.”
“We are here to guide and support you. We will be there to applaud you when you succeed and be there for you to lean on when you don’t.”
Gregory Padilla, a sophomore at the High School for Creative & Performing Arts and a PMAY Artist, said that this support has been invaluable to his musical career thus far. He is a bass player.
“PMAY and the Philadelphia music community will guide me to the professional stage, and I could not do it without their support and guidance,” Padilla said. “I now have foundational support and I can accomplish anything I want with that support.”
During his address at the event, the mayor emphasized the city’s increasing efforts to honor and promote young Philadelphia musicians.
“This initiative showcases Philly as a city that embraces diversity and the arts, part of our larger initiatives,” Kenney said.
“It’s my goal to lift actors, musicians. and artists to the same level [of recognition as] athletes in our city.”
Three PMAY Artists – Malinda Voell, Marquise Bradley, and David Hiester – performed "Rondo-Allegretto" from Trio for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon, Op. 32, by Kaspar Kummer to close out the event.
All of the speakers at the event were excited and optimistic about the artists’ future.
“It won’t be long until I call these PMAY Artists my colleagues, and boy, does that make me smile,” Conyers said.