Phoenix Symphony expands education outreach

The Phoenix Symphony is expanding its education-outreach programs despite limited resources.

The downtown Phoenix-based non-profit added two schools from the Paradise Valley Unified School District to this year’s Classical Concert Series performances. The symphony performed at Greenway Middle and Grayhawk Elementary schools last week.

Greenway is at 3002 E. Nisbet Road in northeast Phoenix. Grayhawk is at 7525 E. Grayhawk Drive in Scottsdale.

The Classical Concert Series will appear at 33 Valley schools this year — up from 22 last school year. The Phoenix Symphony String and Brass and Percussion Ensembles will reach nearly 10,000 students at 12 schools in March and April as part of the series.

“We are an arts integration school and we are always looking for programs such as this to bring to our school,” said Jesse Acosta, principal of Greenway. “Our students come mostly from low socio-economic environments so we want to enrich their fine-arts experiences.”

Nearly 80 schools applied for the series.

“We have way more demand than we’re able to meet. That’s basically due to the fact that we need more funding to reach more kids in the classroom,” said Jim Ward, president and CEO of the symphony. “They’re very successful programs. A lot of schools and classrooms would love for us to come visit them.”

Most of the schools, including Greenway Middle, are Title I schools, with a large percentage of students from low-income households. Many of these schools don’t have music programs.

“Because we have lost our choral teacher and most of our band program due to cuts in staffing, we needed to continue providing exposure to the fine arts,” Acosta said. “We believe that we are doing a disservice to our students when we cut back on the fine arts and concentration on the academics only. We believe a well-rounded student will make a very productive and appreciative member of our society.”

The symphony performances include core concepts from the Arizona State Arts and Learning Standards. The symphony’s Science of Sound program teaches students how science concepts such as vibration, frequency, resonance and amplification are present playing classical orchestral instruments.

“These are kids that for many different reasons aren’t exposed to music in any form but certainly not classical or pops,” Ward said. “We believe that giving these kids that opportunity can have a really great impact and change their lives in a much more positive way.”

Symphony leaders want to expand the program to more schools given the demand but said a lack of funding presents challenges. The Classical Concert Series costs the symphony $5,000 per school.

“Our funding for Symphony Education Outreach, which Classroom Concerts are a part of, has remained the same since last year. In total thus far, the symphony has received over $69,000 in donations for the Classroom Concert Series alone, but we are still lacking a title sponsor for the program,” said Jeff Karas of the symphony.

Acosta said the $200 it cost the school to bring the symphony to students was money well spent. The Phoenix Symphony Strings Ensemble began with the “Overture” from “Carmen” before playing pieces from Antonio Vivaldi and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Many students wore dresses or shirts and ties for the performance.

“The students were enthralled,” he said. ” I still have students coming up to me and thanking me for bringing the symphony to our school and they are asking when they will be performing again.”

Like most non-profits during the recession, the symphony has felt the sting of the economy, specifically in corporate giving. However, Ward is optimistic that this will change as the economy improves.

“When we go visit corporate sponsors and individuals to talk about the importance of education to us, that syncs up very well with what corporations are looking for and the impact they are having in the community,” he said.