The scales and slurs of the string orchestra at Springbrook High School remind Tami Lee Hughes of her old high school orchestra in Baton Rouge, La.
They have the talent, she said. They just may need more support.
Peering over the students’ music stands in their classroom on Friday, Hughes told them to sit up straight, and use their internal energy to make their music powerful.
“It has to be like, ‘This is the most beautiful thing,’ even if you don’t believe it,” she said.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra fellow is one of the first mentors in a new program called OrchLab, which, in its pilot year this year, will bring music mentoring to students in 23 of the neediest middle and high schools in Montgomery County.
The program, developed in partnership between the orchestra and the school system, is meant to enrich the schools’ music programs by putting professional musicians into classrooms for about an hour three times a year to listen, perform and give advice, and by providing other opportunites for the students, such as watching the orchestra perform at The Music Center at Strathmore.
“We are always struggling with the question of what does an orchestra look like in the 21st century, and one of the answers of that is it is much more involved in the life of the community than the traditional orchestra,” said Dick Spero, a community liaison for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. “...We want to give back to the community in a way that is meaningful.”
The program extends the orchestra and school system’s BSO on the Go partnership, which has been offered to elementary school students since 2007.
It will be paid for through “funders and foundations,” Spero said. The plan is to pilot the program this year, and then see how much it can be extended in future years.
“I’m fairy confident we will be able to grow it,” Spero said.
The program is being held at schools in the downcounty and northeast areas, which been identified by the school system of having high proportions of low-income and minority students.
Many of the students at the schools probably can’t afford private lessons, Spero said.
Nick Holden, a senior at the school who plays string bass, said music helps keep him focused.
At schools like Springbrook, it’s easy to get distracted, Holden said.
“I’ve been in trouble before,” he said. “But then I got busy. You have to stay busy to stay out of trouble.”
Wyman Jones, the orchestra and band director at Springbrook High, said Friday he could see how much his students respected Hughes.
Her comments reinforced what he has been telling students all along, and added perspective, he said.
“The insight she has is tremendous,” he said.
Holden said Hughes brought new energy into the room.
She played the students’ songs back to them on her violin, with her eyes closed and head swaying. She showed them how to use more bow, and hit an A-flat.
Mostly, though, she reminded them to play like professionals.
“We’re always planting seeds, so they can improve,” she said. “Not only as musicians, but as people in general.”