BRISTOL >> Celebrating 25 years of educating the region’s top classical student musicians, the nonprofit Youth Orchestra of Bucks County is moving forward with a major expansion of its youth music education program, Students In Concert, to include students in Bristol Borough.
In 2012 YOBC launched Students-In-Concert in Bristol Township to address the needs of students in a community where school-music education had been scaled back, by enhancing access to quality music education.
“We started the program in Bristol Township, in part, because the district had an in-school music program upon which we could build additional depth and strength. In the four years that Students In Concert has worked in Bristol Township, both the middle-school and high-school band programs have measurably improved, and a dozen Bristol Township musicians have successfully auditioned for acceptance into a YOBC ensemble,” said Colleen Sweetsir, YOBC’s Executive Director.
Prior to the program’s inception, acceptance to the YOBC required age-appropriate mastery of the student’s chosen instrument via private instruction as well as an audition. This application process created unforeseen challenges for the students in these communities. Such students are often unable to afford their own instruments or private music lessons and were less able to achieve the mastery required to perform at a high level.
Students In Concert is an intensive, two-semester program that is held each year from October through March. In Bristol Township, the program accepts approximately 50 students who are selected based on interest, commitment, and teacher recommendation. The program provides participating students with instruments as needed, weekly music lessons, and performance opportunities.
The culminating event of the program is the annual Music Festival, which takes place in the spring. Preparation for the festival typically spans six weeks and includes an instruction period during which students learn the musical pieces to be performed, followed by rehearsals. The festival program is developed by a Master Guest Clinician who is carefully selected based on his/her ability to provide the appropriate level of mentorship for the students, as well as the ability to broaden the musical perspective of students and faculty alike.
The Music Festival itself is a two-day event, involving one full day of intensive rehearsals facilitated by the Guest Clinician, and a public concert performance the following day, which is attended by parents, faculty, and the community.
This past year with the support of corporate donors including Comcast and PECO, YOBC expanded the program to Morrisville, in partnership with Morrisville School District 21st Century Community Learning Centers (MSD 21stCCLC) where YOBC has re-introduced a long-dormant string (violin) education program.
With the encouragement and support of the school district, MSD 21st CCLC, and the County Commissioners (who provided a $6,000 grant over two years to support program expansion), YOBC is helping the community’s children discover the joy of learning to play classical string music, with the eventual goal of helping the school district rebuild its symphonic music program.
A growing body of evidence suggests participation in music-related activities has a positive impact on academic performance, such as higher grades, higher GPA, and better SAT scores (Caberac et al. 2013; Schellenberg 2004), as well as psycho-social measures. Students who participate in music programs have been shown to have better social skills and are at a lower risk for drug, tobacco, and alcohol use (Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Use 1999).
Seeing the success of these programs in Bristol Township and Morrisville, Gene Williams of the Grundy Foundation approached YOBC about expanding into Bristol Borough by introducing a partnership with Bristol Borough School District 21st Century Community Learning Centers (BBSD 21st CCLC).
Lower Bucks Hospital made the initial $5,000 contribution to the cause, with Grundy providing a $5,000 challenge grant. The Bristol Borough Students in Concert Program is starting in October with a focus on helping the school district create a band program.
The Youth Orchestra of Bucks County was founded in 1991 with the sponsorship and support of the Arts Department of the Bucks County Community College. YOBC creates opportunities for young musicians to achieve artistic excellence through enriching classical music experiences.