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PlayUSA: Making Music Available to All

PlayUSA is an initiative that enables Carnegie Hall to better support partner organizations across the country that offer instrumental music education programs to low-income and underserved K–12 students. These organizations receive funding, consultation with Carnegie Hall staff to address challenges and build on best practices, and training and professional development for teachers and arts administrators. This year, Carnegie Hall is supporting projects administered by seven organizations: Atlanta Music Project, Community MusicWorks, El Paso Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Metropolitan Youth Orchestras of Central Alabama, The People’s Music School, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) here in New York City. Gary Padmore, OSL’s director of education and community, recently discussed the importance of his organization’s partnership with PlayUSA.

What is the mission of Youth Orchestra of St. Luke's (YOSL), and who do you serve?

YOSL aims to empower young people to achieve success on stage, in the classroom, and in their communities through immersive musical study from our teaching artists, mentorships with Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) musicians, and access to cultural activities happening throughout the city. The program serves a diverse group of children and families within our neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.

PlayUSA (Jennifer Taylor)
Photography: Jennifer Taylor

What is YOSL’s role within the community?

YOSL is a music-based resource for families in Hell’s Kitchen and Manhattan’s Far West Side. In addition to providing instruction to participants on either a string or woodwind instrument, YOSL offers families the opportunity to be engaged and informed throughout the process. As a partnership program, YOSL works closely with organizations in the local community, including three public schools, Police Athletic League, and Abundant Waters, a youth-services nonprofit. These relationships center YOSL as a program that is able to respond and listen to the community’s needs.

How will YOSL’s partnership with PlayUSA affect the lives of students, families, and staff?

Partnering with PlayUSA offers YOSL students direct access to the resources of Carnegie Hall, which is only a few minutes away from several of our program sites. The partnership, we believe, will lead to increased opportunities for our families to share and contribute to the city’s cultural fabric, resulting in stronger programming at all levels for YOSL’s young musicians.

How will the partnership impact your organization?

At an organizational level, YOSL’s partnership with PlayUSA partially underwrites this season’s program expansion. During the 2016–2017 season, YOSL will expand enrollment and transition into an entirely afterschool structure; previously, one of the participating schools could only offer in-school orchestra lessons, but now students can experience YOSL outside of classroom hours. The program growth allows more local children and families to participate in YOSL, and supports the work of OSL’s staff and orchestra musicians. Lastly, our partnership with PlayUSA also informs the larger OSL community, as it relates to programming and the audiences that we engage.

What does YOSL hope to gain from partnering with other music education programs for youth around the country?

By participating in a network of organizations enacting similar programs for students with limited to no access to instrumental programs, OSL hopes to learn and share best practices that will directly benefit our communities. Learning and working alongside peer programs throughout the nation will help YOSL strengthen its organizational approach to programming and its capacity to develop YOSL into a premier ensemble that is deeply rooted with the community at its center. Each PlayUSA site is unique and can offer valuable insight that YOSL can adapt to those with whom we engage.

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