Fifth grader Marquie Stainback reflected on OrchKids, a year-round during and after school, music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods.
“I have been in the program for two years,” said Marquie who plays the flute, guitar, piano, and sings. “I have learned about Black History, my heritage and how to play the flute. The flute is the most challenging instrument I have played, but I like challenges. I like the way I can change the way it sounds.”
Marquie is among the more than 1,200 children from Pre-K through 11th grade who are in the program. OrchKids’ main hub site is Lockerman Bundy Elementary School in West Baltimore.
In collaboration with Baltimore City Public Schools and several community partners, OrchKids provides music education, instruments, academic instruction, meals, as well as performance and mentorship opportunities at no cost to students and families.
OrchKids is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the music program that has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the country’s most impoverished areas.
“I can’t say it’s always safe outside,” said Marquie referencing the community surrounding Lockerman Bundy. “But inside, OrchKids is always safe.”
Raquel Whiting-Gilmer is Executive Director for OrchKids.
“Baltimore is a really great city that has challenges but so does every city,” said Whiting-Gilmer. “We are bringing out the talent we have here in our communities for everyone to see. We have good people in our city and that fact often gets lost. We are shining light on it.”
She added, “I have been here almost two years, and I am still moved hearing kids talk about being safe.”
OrchKids was founded in 2008 with seed funding from Marin Alsop and Founding Donors Rheda Becker and Robert E. Meyerhoff.
“OrchKids is a musicologist for social change program that was started by our founding donors and others,” said Whiting-Gilmer. “Whether performing on stage, or in life, the world this program opens up is incredible. These kids have gone to programs in Europe and many other places. Some kids never leave East or West Baltimore, but our kids travel outside of the city and state, which opens up new worlds to them.”
She added, “That’s the biggest part of the OrchKids program – possibilities and opportunity. The world is really big, and really big for our kids. If kids don’t see that, they will think the world is small.”
OrchKids is the cornerstone of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s efforts to expand their relevance within the broad and diverse Baltimore community.
“This isn’t easy work, but we have incredibly committed teachers and staff members,” said Whiting-Gilmer. “OrchKids is successful because of people giving their blood, sweat and tears to make this work every day.”
Camille Delaney-McNeil is the Senior Site Manager for OrchKids.
“We go to professional developments, and we are connected,” said Delaney-McNeil, who is also a musician. “We are always there, and even if there is not music going on, we are supportive. We have longevity on our minds. Some programs don’t have the opportunity to be as embedded as we are.”
Delaney-McNeil says OrchKids also offers a four-week summer program.
“What became evident to us was summer learning and music atrophy because students were not practicing and using their muscles,” she said. “Summer is also a recipe for kids to get into things they should not. Therefore, OrchKids started a four-week program, which allows us to see kids in a holistic and expanded way. We have really built relationships with our students all across the board. One of our goals is to have performance mentality in mind.”
OrchKids will perform at a concert at the Library of Congress in Washinton, DC on April 7, 2018 and a will hold a benefit concert at the Baltimore War Memorial on May 3, 2018.
For more information, about the OrchKids program, visit:www.bsomusic.org