Baltimore Philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker Make $1 Million Donation in Support of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids Program

Baltimore, Md. (January 17, 2014) – The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) today announced that Baltimore philanthropists Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker have recently made a $1 million gift to support the continued expansion of the BSO’s flagship community engagement program, OrchKids™. This new gift is their second at this level, the first made in 2008 to help launch the program. The donation is also a vital lead gift in the BSO’s campaign to secure its second century. Key goals in the projected growth of OrchKids include expansion from five to eight Baltimore City Public Schools, with an increase in enrollment from 750 to 1,600 pre-K through 12th grade students. The gift was announced today at noon in the Rotunda at City Hall as part of an event hosted by Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, celebrating the recent accomplishments of the OrchKids program. The Mayor also presented OrchKids with a Certificate of Achievement in recognition of its ability to promote measurable academic and social change.

“The existence of OrchKids would not be possible without this incredible generosity from Bob and Rheda,” said BSO President & CEO Paul Meecham. “It is a huge vote of confidence in the progress made by these students over the last five and a half years, all of whom they have come to know and love. Their gift will hopefully inspire others to help make a real difference in the lives of these remarkable children.”


“The BSO’s OrchKids program puts instruments in the hands of children at a young age with the goal of creating systemic, social change for at-risk youth in Baltimore City,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “This vital program not only teaches children to play instruments, but the importance of self-confidence, creative problem-solving, teamwork, and maybe one of the most powerful lessons of all—that we achieve excellence only by daring to test our abilities. I am a huge fan of OrchKids and appreciate its impact on the lives of children and the future of music in Baltimore.”


The end of 2013 saw major recognition for OrchKids. On November 22, the program was a recipient of a 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Chosen from a pool of more than 350 nominations and 50 finalists, OrchKids was one of only 12 after-school and out-of-school programs across the country to receive the award, which is the highest honor such programs can receive in the United States. In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama presented the award to OrchKids Artistic Director Dan Trahey and eighth grader Asia Palmer, who has participated in OrchKids since 2008. One week later, on November 28, the OrchKids performed side-by-side with the BSO and Music Director Marin Alsop at the Ravens’ Thanksgiving night home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Finally, in December 2013, OrchKids was announced as one of 23 programs selected by the League of American Orchestras to receive a 2013-2014 Getty Education and Community Investment Grant. This is the second of a three-year $1.5 million re-granting program made possible by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and was given in recognition of the BSO’s innovation and dedication to increasing its relevance to the community. OrchKids was also among the first round of the program’s grantees in 2012-2013.


The White House award, Ravens collaboration and Getty grant come on the heels of recently-published assessment results of a program-wide study conducted in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The study showed that the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, 84% of OrchKids that had been in the program more than three years scored Proficient or Advanced on the math portion of the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), compared to 76% city-wide.


This same OrchKids cohort also showed improved attendance records, touting a 95% average in-school attendance rate.


“I couldn't be prouder of the successes of the OrchKids. It’s been an extraordinary few months for them,” said BSO Music Director and OrchKids founder Marin Alsop. “Bob and Rheda’s steadfast commitment to education and community engagement in Baltimore City makes them ideal partners for this transformative program.”


About OrchKids
OrchKids™ is a year-round after-school music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods. In partnership with the Baltimore City Public School system, OrchKids provides students with instruments, academic instruction, positive role models, field trips, daily healthy meals and more. Marking its sixth year in 2013-2014, OrchKids serves more than 750 students spanning pre-kindergarten through eighth grades across five Title I schools in West and East Baltimore.


Under Music Director Marin Alsop’s artistic leadership and direction, OrchKids is a cornerstone of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s efforts to expand the Orchestra’s relevance within the City’s broad and diverse community. In 2008, Maestra Alsop directed $100,000 of her MacArthur Genius Prize as seed money to launch the program, and remains an active participant as a mentor to the students, in joint public performances, and in advancing community and funding partnerships. Extraordinary sustaining support for the OrchKids program is provided by Robert E. Meyerhoff & Rheda Becker.


OrchKids is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the music program that in 30 years has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in that country’s most impoverished areas. Like El Sistema, OrchKids is intended primarily to address the most pervasive social challenges affecting underserved youth, using music to cultivate fundamental life skills such as self-expression, cooperative learning, discipline and creativity.

Media Contacts