In an effort to expose more local children to the arts, the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Center joined forces with the New York Staff Band and Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a free music clinic and public concert this weekend.
Located at 4200 Wissahickon Ave., the center and the performers wanted to raise money and awareness in the hope of filling in the gap that the Philadelphia public school system has failed to fill: exposing children to the arts.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s state budget plan for Pennsylvania would stop funding for some programs that include the teacher’s professional development for the arts.
Ronda Atwater, regional music director of The Salvation Army, said she believes that the Philadelphia public school system is lacking in music education programs because of funding and other priorities.
“A priority is sports,” Atwater said. “That’s where the money is going. Of course, there are a lot of Philadelphia schools that are lacking academically and so a lot of money is going towards that to build that up.”
A place like the Kroc Center acts as a community center in specific areas with the hope of exposing families to people, activities and arts that would otherwise not be possible. The Salvation Army decided that one of the areas that needed such a center was Philadelphia.
“There were five sites we looked at,” Harold Burgmayer, divisional music director for The Salvation Army, said, “that were available in terms of what we needed and space but the big thing was demographics in all areas we surveyed [such as] healthcare and needs for the help of the schools.”
With only three years in operation as well as providing music instruction to children without tuition, the Kroc Center is able to see that children have the opportunity to participate in the arts as well as get other opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to get.
When the Kroc Center was built, however, there was no music education program. The center only included facilities such as an aquatics, fitness and recreation programs. The music program officially began in March of this year.
Despite being in operation for only six months, the Kroc Center had no trouble finding students to fill in the spots in the music program.
“Once we were able to get people into Sunday worship,” Atwater said, “we then had a chance to invite people to come and be a part of it musically.”
Once the music program had the children it needed, Atwater provided them with instruments. Atwater said that she believes that music education is vital because it promotes stronger developmental growth by instilling confidence, discipline and exposes them to things that are not part of their home culture.
The importance of music education was instilled in Atwater’s mind at an early age and so she hopes that the Kroc Center’s music education program will do the same for children now and in the future.
One of the children who benefits from the program, Keneshia Webb, who attends Philadelphia High School for Girls and plays the trombone for the Kroc “Joyful Noise” Music Program, sees the lack of music encouragement in the school system and views the Kroc Center as an opportunity to reach her goals.
“I’ve always wanted to be a music teacher,” Webb, 16, said, “so to at least have the chance to teach it while I’m this age is important.”
Webb also sees the Kroc Center as a vehicle for children to meet new people.
“Most of the kids are my family,” Webb said, “so being here kinda branches them out. Now their best friends are people that live across the street or they just met here.”
Concerts like the one on Sunday night also provide things for the children that go beyond the music lessons.
“Today was just really great how our kids got to play with The New York Staff Band after playing for a couple months,” Atwater said. “Right away, they saw the bigger picture. Just even knowing how to play five or six notes, they got to be a part of something big.”
As for the children’s future, Atwater said she hopes the music that the Kroc Center has instilled will continue to grow and go beyond the Kroc Center’s walls.
“Even beyond the music, we just hope that what we’re doing has value,” Atwater said, “and that the kids will really just appreciate and value what happens here and what we’re trying to build in them. We hope that they also have a sense of ownership in the worship services and being a part of something that is bigger than them.”
All proceeds from the concert will benefit the Kroc Center’s music education program for children.