A leadership and administrative change in the School District of Philadelphia's venerable All City Music Festival could signal the start of the program's restoration.
Project 440, the education group founded in 2006 by Philadelphia Orchestra assistant double bassist Joseph Conyers, is taking over management of the All City program from the School District. The legal aspects of the transfer may take months to complete, but a ceremonial handshake sealing the deal is planned on stage at this year's All City concert on Monday.
The program, which, as the name implies, draws hundreds of music students - mostly high school age - from across the city in a competitive process, includes not only an orchestra, but also a band, a choir, and a jazz band.
Conyers says plans are not yet fully formed, but are likely to include developing partnerships with such groups as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute of Music, and Settlement Music School. One significant change has already been decided. Next season, All City auditions will be opened up to children of any taxpaying Philadelphia family, including those at charter and private schools.
The double bassist also wants to add instrumental lessons for every All City participant (right now, only about half are taking lessons), provide college and career advice, and institute training in entrepreneurship and community engagement.
He envisions sending smaller ensembles like string quartets and woodwind quintets into the schools to help recruit students.
Currently, the orchestra meets for an annual concert and the six rehearsals leading up to it, but in a previous era it met every Tuesday night during the school year. Conyers would like to restore that schedule.
"These aren't short-term, next-week solutions," says Conyers, 33. "There are long-term investments in which everyone wins. The big thing is using music to make better people, to allow them to rise above their situations."
Conyers and the School District are planning on placing both 440 and the All City program under the umbrella of a separate nonprofit. The district will continue to provide funding, at least for now. The hope is that enough money can be raised by the separate group that the $35,000 or so the school system currently spends on All City can dwindle as other fund-raising kicks in.
Frank Machos, director of music education for the School District, says, "It is our hope that moving forward, a model of donations and sponsorships will supplement these expenses so that we can reallocate our resources to better support our teachers." He also hopes that a new multimillion-dollar endowment can be raised, "to support the operations and growth of music education in the absence of increased funding from the state."
That means Conyers will take on fund-raising and grant writing, as well as the collection of data on students and alumni. "These are all programs that 440 can offer that haven't existed for All City, at least in recent memory, at no additional cost to their program," he says.
"An enhanced vision for the often-beleaguered program will transform All City into a thriving youth arts institution of the 21st century built on Project 440's proven curriculum, a formidable organizational structure, and a calculated fund-raising strategy for long-term financial support."