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Philadelphia youth orchestra strikes a chord of opportunity through "Play on Philly"

"Play on Philly" youth orchestra strikes a chord of opportunity
"Play on Philly" youth orchestra strikes a chord of opportunity 03:24

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Every Thursday at the Howard Center for the Arts in Philadelphia, the sound of strings, brass and woodwinds echo through the halls. Around 60 students harmonize in unison, with 11-year-old Austin Garmon-Hatchett among them.

"I'm learning how to hear the other instruments and how to blend in," Garmon-Hatchett said.

Garmon-Hatchett found his voice through the trumpet in the organization Play on Philly, otherwise known as POP. The after-school program provides rigorous private musical instruction and ensemble opportunities for students whose families may not otherwise be able to afford it.

POP comes on location to various middle and elementary school programs, and for students who want to continue at the high school level, they meet twice a week at Howard Center For the Arts. Though Garmon-Hatchett is only in 5th grade, he's already playing in the high school orchestra.

"In the group setting, I'm learning how to make the whole orchestra sound as one," he said.

Ian Taylor, a program coordinator and brass instructor, says he's very passionate about the mission of POP. When he moved to Philly, he wanted to be involved right away because he knows that not every student is connected with musical opportunities. Students can participate in the program for a $150 registration fee for the entire year, which covers the space, private instruction and chamber ensembles. If families need help covering that cost, scholarships are available.

"A lot of students grow up with robust funded music programs, but some kids don't," Taylor said. "So we're reaching into those places to find the kids who would really be drawn to this and really take advantage of the opportunities but maybe didn't have access before."

For students like Garmon-Hatchett, POP breathes new life into their routines.

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"Before I played trumpet or joined POP, all I did was go to school, come back, and repeat," he recalls. "So when I started playing the trumpet, it became a lot more fun."

However, the benefits of POP extend beyond mere enjoyment.

"A lot of kids go through school and end up kind of isolated and aimless," Taylor said. "And all the kids, they come here, they start to identify as members of POP and as musicians."

Moreover, Taylor says the program benefits students' overall well-being and safety.

"Kids can go home after school and maybe not be getting in any trouble, getting their homework done," he said.

Garmon-Hatchett says playing the trumpet has increased his performance in other school subjects, like English class.

"In writing, now I know how to make it more colorful and make it more alive," he said. "My life would be a lot more bland without the trumpet adding that pop to it."

Monday, May 8, Play on Philly has their "Evening of Harmony" at 7:30 p.m. It is their annual fundraiser, taking place at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

POP students from across Philadelphia will be performing.

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