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Musical pathways to success

Over the past year, there has been so much public attention focused on the unmet needs and lack of options for Baltimore's youth, and rightly so. It's a huge and critical challenge. The simple fact is that the systemic issues that have marginalized so many of our city's young people require many different kinds of solutions. As our city and community look to find and craft those solutions, the impact of music programs demonstrates the difference that music and the arts can make in the lives of young people.

Take for example the case of 14-year-old Nyshae Cheatham, who will board a Grand Rapids-bound flight at BWI this weekend with her saxophone, dreams of a life in music and the support of an entire network of arts education programs serving Baltimore youth. She is one of over a dozen students from Baltimore City whose hard work, talent and dedication have earned them scholarships to attend Summer Arts Camp at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, far from her West Baltimore home.

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Nyshae's path to Interlochen began in a Baltimore City Public Schools music program, then on to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids, followed by entrance into the Peabody Preparatory's Tuned-In program, which provides gifted young students who would not otherwise have the means with tuition-free opportunities to study an instrument. This fall she will enroll at the Baltimore School for the Arts. These and other complementary programs together comprise a pipeline of arts education in Baltimore that is creating a musical pathway for city schoolkids — in some cases leading to college and professional careers that they otherwise could only have imagined.

The combined success of these and other programs can be counted in the individual stories of students like Nyshae and like Brandon Woody, a trumpeter who grew up in East Baltimore and is one of only five jazz students recently selected as a fellow at the Dave Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific. And like Osi Atikpoh, the child of Nigerian immigrants, a current Baltimore Scholar at the Peabody Conservatory, a BSA and Tuned-In alumnus and current teacher for OrchKids and Tuned-In.

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Success can also be counted in numbers. OrchKids and Tuned-In had more students accepted by Interlochen this summer — 13 — than any other comparable programs in the country. And seven Tuned-In/OrchKids students were recently awarded positions with the Los Angeles Philharmonic's National Take-a-Stand Festival, receiving full tuition scholarships to participate in summer music camps at the Longy School of Music of Bard College and the Aspen Music Festival.

The academic results are equally impressive. OrchKids participants are recording more regular attendance and better grades and test scores than Baltimore City Public Schools students' average. And all of the Peabody Tuned-In students from the program's first two graduating classes matriculated to college, far exceeding the 44 percent citywide average. Colleges of choice included Oberlin, Wellesley, the Peabody Conservatory, SUNY Purchase, the University of Maryland, the New England Conservatory, Towson University and more, with many of the students pursuing music studies.

The simple fact is that music and the arts provide opportunity, focus, direction, a sense of purpose and the chance to develop a life-long passion. It's a matter of access, and while we can't change it for the world, we can change it right here in Baltimore. Collectively we can provide that opportunity, that purpose, that chance to fall in love with music in a way that will be a life-changing experience and provide a path to a positive, meaningful future. Just ask Nyshae, Brandon and Osi.

Fred Bronstein is the dean of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. His e-mail is fred.bronstein@jhu.edu.

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