OrchKids gets $1 million gift from Robert Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker

OrchKids, the program that puts musical instruments into the hands of Baltimore schoolchildren, announced Friday that it is receiving a $1 million gift that will allow it to double the number of students it serves.

The donation from Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, which was announced during a news conference at Baltimore City Hall, will expand the number of participating public schools from five to eight by 2019 and will increase the program's enrollment from 750 students to 1,600 attending pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade.

This was the philanthropic couple's second $1 million gift to the program. Meyerhoff and Becker made their first donation in 2008 when OrchKids, which is run by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was just getting off the ground.

Their contribution also is the lead gift in a $10 million, five-year fundraising campaign intended to ensure OrchKids' future.

"OrchKids has been so successful that we wanted more kids to be involved in the program," Becker said. "This is about more than making music. It's about giving each and every one of these children a reason to be proud of themselves."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, 84 percent of the children who had participated in OrchKids for at least three years scored either proficient or advanced on the math portion of a state assessment test, compared with 76 percent of pupils citywide. In addition, she said, the same group of fledgling musicians had an impressive school attendance rate of 95 percent.

Rawlings-Blake expressed her gratitude to BSO music director Marin Alsop. When Alsop moved to Baltimore, she pledged to make the symphony orchestra more accessible — and then used $100,000 of her own money to found OrchKids.

"I can say wholeheartedly that every single day you've been here, you've kept your word, particularly to Baltimore's schoolchildren," Rawlings-Blake told Alsop. "When I go to other cities and the name of our music director comes up, I tell the other mayors, 'You can look all you want. Just don't touch.'"

Toward the end of the news conference, Alsop made a rare-off-the-podium appearance when she picked up a violin and joined a contingent of OrchKids performing two classical pieces.

She followed the lead of the group's conductor, Jonah Lassiter, a seventh-grade student at Lockerman Bundy Elementary School, as he led the musicians through Johann Strauss Sr.'s "Radetzky March."

After the musicians had stopped playing, Jonah made the gracious gesture that has become customary when a concert is over. He walked over to Alsop, extended one palm and shook his concertmaster's hand.


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