By Lori Lee
NDG Contributing Writer
Every Friday, Isaac retrieves his trumpet from his locker and heads to his private lessons provided by the Plano Symphony Orchestra (PSO). Isaac, who attends Plano’s Armstrong Middle School, is part of the Plano Symphony Orchestra’s scholarship program. He applied and was accepted into the program as a seventh grader. After a year in the program, he continues weekly private lessons and is progressing as a young musician–a trumpet player.
Launched in 2017, the Plano Symphony Orchestra Scholarship Program provides lessons free of charge to a select number of students, identified as talented but lacking financial means. The PSO Scholarship program has grown from 13 awards in 2017 to more recently 18 scholarships, valued at approximately $900 each per year. The program benefits Plano I.S.D. Middle School students, all of whom are required to take either orchestra, music, dance, or choir. The program is a way for the PSO to give back to the community by helping the students with their passions and giving them further training, explains Dr. Christine Hopkins, Education Committee Chair for PSO.
Prior to the program’s launching, members of the PSO Education Committee planned and gathered support for the program over a two-year period. Dr. Hopkins explains that beginning in 2015, the PSO tasked its education committee to examine the education programing offering by the symphony and ask the critical question, what can the symphony do to further give back to the community that had supported the symphony for the last 35 years?
At this time, the committee reached out to Kathy Kuddes, then Fine Arts Director of Plano I.S.D. and learned there were many talented students having difficulty paying for private lessons. That was the seed, explained Dr. Hopkins, when they identified the need for someone to step up, select kids for the program, and get them private lessons. This, she explained, would give talented students, as identified by their band or orchestra directors, a level ground with the other students in Plano I.S.D.’s award-winning band and orchestra program.
Through their fundraising efforts, the Committee has been able to sustain the program, granting almost 100 scholarships over the past five years. One scholarship recipient will be pursuing a music career in trombone performance, Dr. Hopkins said she got chills hearing him play recently, realizing that “they are actually able to help these kids.”
The goal is not just to get a professional musician out of the program, explains Dr. Hopkins, but to help students have the opportunity to pursue their passion as a child and to come to develop a love and appreciation for music. The background in music helps them to study better and to be a better person. The students may choose to continue in music or later on in life be inspired to encourage their children, as future supporters or influencers in the community.
Like all the applicants, Isaac submitted letters of reference and recommendation and a one-page essay discussing music. Shortly thereafter, his family was excited to receive correspondence from the Plano Symphony Orchestra congratulating him as a recipient. Isaac said he loves the program. “The teachers work through all the problems and help you with what you’re struggling with, and it just helps you to be better player.”
The one major source of funds has come through the PSO’s annual collaboration with the Plano International Festival and more recently through “Dances with the Symphony,” where performers dance alongside a PSO string quarter. One hundred percent of the proceeds from ticket sales go the scholarship program fund. Other funds are raised through personal networking with people who are interested in helping the children, such as generous sponsor, Sandy Nachman, and Charles and Tammy Millers, all long-term patrons and major donors of the Plano Symphony, explains Dr. Hopkins. PlSD Council of PTAs is also a loyal community partner to the scholarship program. Every year since the launch in 2017, PISD Council of PTAs has generously donated two full scholarships through the program.
The PSO Scholarship program is not just paying for the students’ lessons, says Dr. Hopkins, but also welcoming them to the Opening PSO concert and the post-concert reception, where they meet with donors and receive an award certificate and special pin. Isaac recently attended the opening PSO concert, when he and all the students in the program were asked to speak about their experiences. His mom says the exposure to the musicians and to different genres of music has been good for both him and his sister. Her hope is that this program will encourage Isaac and other students to venture out of their comfort zones to realize their potential.