Using Music to Change Lives: Play on Philly
Music lives in West Philadelphia, home of Play on Philly, a program modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema, in which under-served children are taught to play classical music. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the program is as much about social change as it is about music.
Lewis: Pictures at an Exhibition was the music behind a life-changing moment for trumpet player Stanford Thompson, who was a student at Curtis rehearsing the Mussorgsky work with visiting conductor Simon Rattle:
Thompson: He finally stopped the orchestra and he said, you guys sound like robots. Everything’s perfect, mechanical, in tune. He said, there’s a group of students in Venezuela who could outplay you all any day.
Lewis: After graduating from Curtis, Thompson went to Venezuela to study El Sistema. He returned to Philadelphia, and founded Play on Philly, which he describes as a social program:
Thompson: I think putting kids in an orchestra, having them play with one another, is one of the best ways for them to co-exist in the same space. For them all to have a voice, but not be a jumble of noise. I also think it can build a lot of pride within each child, within their families, and within the community. That’s the main goal of what we do.
Lewis: Music, says Thompson, is an ideal vehicle to teach the kind of responsibility that can change lives:
Thompson: It’s the only art form that I know that you can put 100 – 200 – 300 people in a room with a common goal. Even on a spiritual level, there are things you can’t really express in words, and I think that emotion can come out of these instruments. That’s why I think music is unique.
Lewis: Play on Philly currently has 27 teaching artists, working with 225 students at 2 schools.