Detroit Symphony Orchestra Seeking to Guarantee Music Education for Any Child Who Wants it

Your Arts & Culture Connection for Nov. 23, 2019

Phto Credit – DSO image

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) recently announced that it is hoping to provide a musical instrument to every single Detroit student—any K-12 student in public, private and charter school—who wants to play one. In addition, the DSO envisions that this program will create jobs for city residents by also providing children with access to music education through private music lessons, coaching, after-school programs and even instrument repair.

In a city that is close to 80-percnt African-American, the DSO’s announcement is a dramatic and future-oriented effort to both engage multiple segments of the local community and cultivate the next generations of artists and audience members.

The program, which is called “Detroit Harmony,” is still in the planning phase. The DSO is currently accepting applications and conducting interviews for the position of project manager. The new manager will then spend the next 18 months planning the implementation of “Detroit Harmony,” and will then orchestrate a staged rollout of the program.

Community engagement efforts of this magnitude require support from all levels of executive leaders. Mark Davidoff, DSO board chairman, was quoted as calling the effort “a big bold idea that will require big, bold commitments. He added: “But we’re full throttle behind it, and think we’re onto something very, very important.”

Major funding for the initiative was provided by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and the Max & Marjorie Fisher Foundation.

In an interview with local media, Caen Thomason-Redus, the director of community programs for the DSO, was quoted as saying: “Anytime we’re seeking to truly remove all of the barriers to something like music education, we cannot ignore the other issues that those students and families are facing.”

That’s why, Mr. Thomason-Redus noted, the program is designed to also include “increased opportunities for supplemental music instruction…in the form of private lessons, coaching, after-school programs, that kind of thing.”

The DSO envisions that the program also will generate tangential jobs, such as the distribution, maintenance and repairing of instruments, as well as transportation for students and their families to take advantage of music education opportunities. In addition, he is hoping that the DSO will be able to partner with social service providers to help break down barriers.

Ultimately, Mr. Thomason-Redus says, the goal of “Detroit Harmony” is to remove whatever barriers are in the way of offering “consistent, high-quality music education for every student regardless of what school they’re in, whatever neighborhood they’re in. Any of those things that have been barriers or excuses in the past, we want to go away.”

Arts Education has been a part of the nonprofit arts sector for a long time. As we know, Community Engagement as a formal department is less than 10 years old. We must thank our leadership in Arts Education for providing opportunities to create access to families and children and, in so doing, engaging adults as well.

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