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Transforming lives through music

The subtle sounds of violin strings caught Barry Mosby's ear at a young age, inspiring him to learn to play the instrument as a public school student in Baltimore. Mosby regrets not sticking with it, but he can't help but smile as he watches his oldest daughter, Faith, stand before a crowd at her West Baltimore elementary school with her violin tucked under her chin.

"She loves her violin," Mosby says. "It means she's got some of my genes in her,"

Faith and her sister, Hope, perform monthly concerts as part of the OrchKids, a student orchestra and music education program taught by experienced musicians including more than a dozen alumni of the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory. Founded by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the program offers valuable learning opportunities to underserved communities; in January, OrchKids expanded into its fourth school and now reaches nearly 500 students throughout Baltimore.

Mosby and his wife, Silvia, always arrive early in order to secure the best seats to see their daughters perform.

"I get really filled up every time I come to see them play," Mosby says.

OrchKids was founded in 2008 by Marin Alsop, the music director of the BSO and a distinguished visiting artist at Peabody, with assistance from Peabody graduate Dan Trahey, who serves as the program's artistic program development director. The program is inspired by El Sistema, a music education program for some of Venezuela's neediest children that began in a parking garage more than 30 years ago.

"We look at music as preventative medicine," Trahey says. "We want to start as early as possible and focus on developing a healthy lifestyle."

The OrchKids meet five or six times a week, for as long as three hours a day. They meet on holidays when schools are closed. They practice and perform during the summer. Trahey stresses commitment, consistency and teamwork to develop the students' passion for music, all while providing a positive, supportive environment in which they can grow and perform.

"The most trouble they can get in here is talking out of turn or not respecting the instrument," says Trahey, who also directs a community outreach program called Tuned-In, which gives Peabody Preparatory scholarships to public middle and high school students.

Peabody's commitment to serving Baltimore is embodied in its Music Education program, which urges students to reach into communities and share music. Trahey teaches an elective course called Community Engagement and Creativity that requires students to plan outreach events and write grant proposals to support music-related initiatives.

"Often it's separated into performers, educators and advocates, but to be a well-rounded musician, you really need to encompass all three," says Rafaela Dreisin, a 2010 Peabody graduate who took Trahey's course and is now an OrchKids site coordinator.

Dreisin, a native of Long Island, had never been to Baltimore before enrolling at Peabody, and she had not imagined living in the city beyond graduation until she started working with OrchKids. Now, as she sits in an auditorium filled with students and parents brought together by music, she says the impact of the program really begins to sink in.

"I believe in music and I believe that it has a rightful place in schools," she says. "It's had such a profound effect on my life, and, as musicians, we need to continue to find new ways to share it with everyone."

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