Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Marin Al­sop

I first fell in love with Bal­ti­more when I guest con­ducted the Bal­ti­more Symphony in 2002. The BSO, one of only 16 full-time ma­jor or­ches­tras in the en­tire United States, plays with pas­sion, pur­pose, op­ti­mism and in­tegrity. Mov­ing to Bal­ti­more in 2007 to ac­cept the po­si­tion of mu­sic di­rec­tor of the BSO, I was not sur­prised to find that these core qual­i­ties de­fine not only the or­ches­tra but the res­i­dents and the city of Bal­ti­more it­self.

My de­sire to con­nect with a larger com­mu­nity and work to­ward a richer, more di­verse and in­clu­sive sym­phonic world led me to fol­low my heart to share the joy of clas­si­cal mu­sic with as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. In 2008 Dan Tra­hey, Nick Skin­ner and I started an af­ter-school pro­gram with 30 first graders at Har­riet Tub­man Ele­men­tary School in West Bal­ti­more.

Our idea was to give these kids the same op­por­tu­nity we had to ex­press our­selves, us­ing mu­sic as our shared ve­hi­cle.

We kicked off the 2008 school year with a cleanup and paint day at Har­riet Tub­man. That’s where I first met Lynette Fields. Lynette said “Miss Marin, I sure hope you con­duct bet­ter than you paint!” A great in­tro­duc­tion to this as­tutely un­der­stated woman.

We had no idea if any kids would sign up for our pro­gram or what they or their com­mu­nity would think of our odd trio in­vad­ing their neigh­bor­hood.

Lynette told me many years later that ev­ery­one thought we were un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tors. But, in spite of these sus­pi­cions, they were will­ing to give us a chance, and Lynette en­rolled her twins Asia and An­dre in the new “OrchKids” (or­ches­tra kids) pro­gram.

Fast for­ward 11 years later to to­day, and I couldn’t be prouder of Asia and An­dre — and Lynette, too, who is cel­e­brat­ing her 11th year work­ing for Orchkids.

Asia just grad­u­ated from the Bal­ti­more School for the Arts and was ac­cepted into the Hartt School of Mu­sic at the Univer­sity of Hartford – her first choice for college – where she will ma­jor in flute and arts man­age­ment.

An­dre, more re­served than Asia, is an in­com­ing se­nior at the Mer­gen­thaler Vo­ca­tional High School. He is a won­der­fully gifted mu­si­cian and per­cus­sion­ist. An­dre wants to pur­sue a ca­reer re­lated to com­put­ers and play mu­sic as a hobby. He, like Asia, is a role model for the younger OrchKids and re­turns ev­ery af­ter­noon to West Bal­ti­more to work with the next gen­er­a­tion. The older stu­dents take their roles as men­tors very se­ri­ously, al­ways par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­gram projects as stu­dent lead­ers; help­ing with home­work time; and of­ten pro­vid­ing ex­tra, non-mu­si­cal sup­port for the younger stu­dents. For Asia and An­dre, this is com­mu­nity and this is home; they make the pro­gram richer and are com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing their peers.

Their younger brother, Aaron, plays sax­o­phone, and Lynette tells me that OrchKids has dra­mat­i­cally shifted the tra­jec­tory of his life, es­pe­cially as a child grow­ing up with Asperger’s Syn­drome.

We be­lieve that all chil­dren need to be seen and ac­cepted for who they are and where they are in any given mo­ment, and our com­mit­ment is to nur­ture them as fully as pos­si­ble. When Aaron strug­gled to at­tend daily prac­tices, we worked with Lynette to de­sign a pro­gram and struc­ture the class­room in a man­ner that worked best for him and that he en­joyed.

In these 11 years, our OrchKids fam­ily has grown from 30 kids to over 1,600 kids. And ev­ery one of them ex­udes pas­sion, pur­pose, op­ti­mism and in­tegrity.

When jour­nal­ists ask “what your proud­est achieve­ment,” I an­swer with­out hes­i­ta­tion: OrchKids! And when they ask me what dreams I have for the fu­ture, I say: “To have 10,000 OrchKids in Bal­ti­more!”

When the nightly news lead story is fi­nally about these won­der­ful, tal­ented, ex­u­ber­ant, in­spir­ing young peo­ple, I will be happy.

Their pas­sion, pur­pose, op­ti­mism and in­tegrity are a re­flec­tion of the beauty of Bal­ti­more and speak to the enor­mous pos­si­bil­ity within ev­ery child, within ev­ery one of us, and within our beau­ti­ful city

From the bot­tom of my heart I thank you for your sup­port of our world class Bal­ti­more Symphony and these amaz­ing young Bal­ti­more­ans.

It has been my priv­i­lege to call Bal­ti­more my home.


Asia Palmer (cen­ter) and Dan Tra­hey re­ceive a Na­tional Arts and Hu­man­i­ties Youth Pro­gram award from then-First Lady Michelle Obama in 2013.

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