The Power of Music Education in Baltimore

A Story from NAfME Member Karen Seward


Baltimore riots


I just wanted to share this little story about my beautiful city, Baltimore, and the power of music education.

Every day when I leave my quiet middle class, privileged public school program, I go to west Baltimore to teach with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s ORCHKids program. I’ve been doing this for eight years, but I have never been moved like I was yesterday. We are housed in the city schools, but it is an after-school, El Sistema-based program called: Instilling Positive Community and Social Change Through Music.  

The site that I teach at on Wednesdays and Thursdays is about five or ten blocks from the riots and looting in Baltimore. In fact, I drove right past one of the burned out CVS pharmacies on my way there.

I will be honest, I was uneasy and apprehensive about going there yesterday. It was the first day that we were open since the terrible violence. The teacher in me knew that these kids and this community needed and deserved normalcy and music making, but, the pessimist in me said, “Don’t go.”

I went …

And these kids brought tears to my eyes.

Here’s what happened:

I have been working with this group all year (see the photo—that is little Savion’s beautiful smile front and center). They are learning Pachelbel’s Canon in D on recorder. I taught it to them singing the solfege (do, re, do mi . . . ) and hand signs first. I had the recording playing in the classroom as I greeted them at the door—but, I heard them BEFORE I saw them.

There they were, standing in a perfectly straight line, singing in the most angelic voices and signing—even before I stepped outside. They heard the recording and just started doing that on their own. The music brought normalcy, calm, and joy to their faces. And it brought tears to mine! They smiled when they saw me and sang with even more gusto. I just stood there with tears welling up in my eyes.

These faces that you see in the photo—THIS is what we need to remember.

They forgot all the bad in the world for the moment and just made music with me for the next 45 minutes. Smiling, laughing—and teaching ME!

Teaching me that I need to get over my fears, myself, and what I am scared of, because these kids need us! Reminding me why we do this every day. Even if it’s hard or uncomfortable, they depend on us. We all know this, but we forget as we get caught up in the everyday and in the negativity we see on the news.

There is positivity in all of this. If nothing else, I was reminded of this. They all needed a few more hugs yesterday, which was the least I could offer these kids that have unfortunately now seen and lived through more than they should.

Thanks for indulging—I know it was a long story. But, thought you could use some positivity from our west Baltimore human family.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Kristen Rencher. May 1, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (