BSO school program to get $1 million

OrchKids, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's innovative educational initiative launched a year ago at an inner-city school, will receive a $1 million gift from Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker. The Baltimore philanthropists were early supporters of the project, which was started with seed money of $100,000 from BSO music director Marin Alsop.

"We're hoping other people will contribute," Becker said Wednesday after a news conference at Lockerman Bundy Elementary School. (OrchKids started at the now-closed Harriet Tubman Elementary.) "There needs to be an endowment so the program can go on and on. Every student may not become a musician, but it's a wonderful start for whatever they may want to be."


The program includes music instruction during the regular school day and after school. Students learn basics of music and get a chance to learn an instrument.

More than 150 students, pre-K to second grade, are now part of the OrchKids program at Lockerman Bundy in West Baltimore. The $1 million donation is estimated to cover 50 percent of the expenses during the next four years, as other grades are added to the program. More than 300 students will eventually participate.


Cynthia Cunningham, principal at Lockerman Bundy, said that OrchKids' members have shown "measurable progress" in their homework and behavior. "They can't keep from tapping," she said, "and little girls are crying because they don't want to go home in the evening."

OrchKids is patterned after El Sistema, a project in Venezuela that, during the past three decades, has served more than 300,000 children, and has produced numerous youth orchestras.

"Because of the program in Venezuela, a lot of cities in this country are interested in doing something like it," Meyerhoff said.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon praised the OrchKids program for its role in "putting our children first." Andrés Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, also gave the project high marks, adding, "I want it to be there for every single child in Baltimore City."

Alsop said she "was proud to live in a city that invests in young people."

OrchKids is the kind of initiative that makes the BSO more relevant, said Paul Meecham, president and CEO of the BSO. "If we're not going out into the community, we're not doing our job," he said.