(Photo courtesy of Corpsreps)
Musicopia’s journey to Impact100 Philadelphia’s $100,000 core mission grant has been a decade-long exercise in faith and persistence.
“It just became a running joke after a while,” said Musicopia executive director Denise Kinney, whose mother Welthie Fitzgerald co-founded the nonprofit in 1974. “Like, ‘Oh, we should apply for that again.’ We hoped, but we never thought we’d actually get it.”
Musicopia, which celebrated its 45th anniversary empowering Philadelphia’s students through music programming in September, started the new school year with not one, but two major grants. In addition to the core mission grant, the organization received a $45,000 grant from Children Can Shape the Future for Drumlines, its award-winning after-school percussion program.
Operating under the belief that music education can transform lives, Musicopia places an emphasis on reaching students from underserved communities. Drumlines offers free lessons and performance opportunities to third through 12th graders of all skill levels, and the new funding, which will be spread out over the next two years, will help expand the program.
The grants are being used to hire staff to lead a drumline for both Martin Luther King High School and Parkway Northwest High School, two neighboring schools in Northwest Philadelphia. At the end of the previous school year, the program was comprised of 200 students at five schools in the city.
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Drumlines members participate in studio lessons, at least four hours of ensemble rehearsal each week and multiple performance opportunities throughout the year.
Studying music has been proven to help students perform better in school, develop hand mind coordination, improve their listening skills, and cooperate more with teachers. Additionally, students develop and hone skills in focus, discipline, creativity, interdependence, and leadership, all of which they can use in other endeavors and areas of life.
Musicopia’s youth can attest to stronger academic performances as a result of routine engagement with music: last school year, students in Drumlines had a 100% graduation rate, compared to 70% overall for the School District of Philadelphia.
Schools across the nation have cut arts programs in order to find wiggle room in shrinking budgets, but Drumlines director Jesse Mell said that in addition to being an avenue for self expression, music education programs bring hope.
“In city schools, one of the highest causes of attrition and failure is a general extension of aimlessness or hopelessness that bleeds over from the community because there are certain people that weren’t set up to have the opportunity to be able to achieve as easily as everybody else,” Mell said.
“So when you have a program that shows promise, and it shows growth and extends positivity to the kids and a clear path to success,” he added, “it really becomes quite a big deal. It’s something they can touch and feel, right there, it’s not anything esoteric like the promise of a career years away. This is a chance to actually achieve with all your friends.”
Mell has been teaching percussion to students of all ages for over two decades. In addition to watching his students’ self confidence improve, through Drumlines, Mell has seen their sense of purpose and belonging solidified.
“We really focus on the musical ensembles in each of our schools as not an exclusive skill-based or audition-based ensemble, but rather, one that is equipped to take on as many students as possible to build a sense of community and belonging so that the kids can feel like they have a safe space and a space for their expression in their school,” he said.
When eighth grader Amir Jones heard about the expansion, he was thrilled.
“A lot of people from different schools have been asking about the program and want to get into it, so the expansion would be a really big help,” said Jones, who has been a member of Drumlines for going on four years.
Jones became curious about Drumlines when he saw students in the program having exciting performance opportunities, like playing at the Eagles stadium. He joined at a mentor’s urging, and has since found family among his fellow band members.
“It’s really important that Drumlines exists because it gives us something to work for and even pursue as a career after we get out of school,” he said. “It’s something really meaningful for most of the kids right now.”
Since its creation, Musicopia (originally named Strings for Schools) has served over 325,000 students in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
Kinney comes from a family of musicians and asserts that a connection to music, especially when forged in youth, almost always lasts a lifetime. She’s enthusiastic about Musicopia’s growing family, especially the ability to bring Drumlines to more schools.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve more kids,” Kinney said. “It’s a huge leap for us in terms of growth. And we’ll do it. We’ll rise to the occasion gladly.”-30-
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