Despite the Philadelphia School District's ongoing budget turmoil, the show will go on Thursday night as more than 200 of the most talented middle-school musicians take the stage for the annual All Philadelphia Middle School Music Festival.
This year's concert features musicians selected through auditions from 50 city schools. They'll play classical and contemporary pieces, including a Vivaldi concerto and a tribute to Ray Charles, at South Philly's Girard Academic Music Program, according to Virginia Lam, the district's content specialist for music education.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that, despite the budgetary issues, the district is committed to continuing arts and music programs that allow events like annual all-city music festivals and the 56th annual Citywide Student Art Exhibition. The exhibition has more than 1,500 works of art by students on display at district headquarters. In February, the district had proposed cutting instrumental-music programs, but those cuts were taken off the table.
"The commitment from the administration is to ... basically build a fire wall around our school's budgets and make sure that we maintain what we have currently in terms of what we provide to our students," he said. "Our commitment continues to be strong to the arts and music."
He said that the goal of the district looking elsewhere for funds — for example, to the city for passage of the long-debated Actual Value Initiative to yield an extra $94 million via property taxes — is to avoid further cuts to schools' budgets.
At a May 1 School Reform Commission meeting, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen told commissioners that without that extra $94 million, the district may not be able to open schools in the fall.
"We simply could not cut more from the current structure without sacrificing things that make education meaningful," Knudsen said of the bare-bones school budgets at the meeting.
Despite commitment to the arts, Lam, who taught music in the district for 25 years and has been the music-program supervisor for nine, said she is nervous that cuts could be coming.
"Their strong commitment for music education in the district makes me feel really feel hopeful for the future," she said. "I'm always worried. I'm a worrier."
Parts of the district's arts programs are kept alive by donor funds. Lam said that VH1's Save the Music project donated about $1.5 million in new instruments over the past decade. n