OrchKids founding Director + BSO Music Director
I recently caught sight of a tall young man in my kitchen and thought: Who can that be, only to realize it was my son! When did he get so tall? Where did my little boy go? I have that same mix of emotions when I drop in on OrchKids these days. When did our kids become so tall and so mature? I feel that same nostalgia for those 30 little toddlers that we started with seven years ago along with that same enormous pride at the mature young people they have become today. I could never have imagined sitting down to write this article at that time. Then, we struggled to find a home for our OrchKids dream. We spent a weekend painting a school and picking up trash and glass from a sad little playground. Dan [Trahey], Nick [Skinner] and I, optimists to the end, even wondered out loud whether we could really achieve it. So much has happened in these seven years, and I am so grateful to the legions of people who have rolled up their sleeves and jumped in to help.
OrchKids started with two simple words: access and inclusion. It is my profound belief that all human beings deserve access to great art, and that it is our responsibility to create an environment of inclusion for everyone. Playing an instrument was life changing for me as a child. Besides the obvious benefits of hand/eye/ear coordination, I learned invaluable life lessons. I learned how to motivate myself to practice, how to budget my time, that to become good at something one must consistently apply oneself, and that it is healthy and affirming to express one’s emotions when channeled through playing an instrument. And then, when I started playing in an orchestra, I gained a whole new range of skills related to working with people, following direction, and understanding when to assert myself versus when to blend in with the group. Plus, it was really fun! I believe that every child should have the same opportunity that I had to develop these life skills while having fun.
As I recently watched a performance by OrchKids at Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School, I could see these skills in Technicolor. The teamwork, the mutual support, the pride, the achievement, the sheer joy in their faces – and in the faces of the audience members – brought tears to my eyes. Our children have unlimited capacity and it is our responsibility to hold that bar up high for them. Watching them clear that bar is its own reward. I don’t know how many OrchKids will choose careers in music, but that isn’t really the goal. My goal, as it is for my own son, is for them to see futures filled with possibility and beauty and to become good citizens of our world. How is it possible that here we are nearly a decade later with an amazing family of over 1000 OrchKids? It truly has taken a village and my deepest thanks to everyone, especially the OrchKids parents, teachers, and staff. You are my heroes.
Her outstanding success as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2007 has been recognized by two extensions in her tenure, now confirmed until 2021. As part of her artistic leadership in Baltimore, Marin Alsop has created bold initiatives that have contributed to the wider community and reached new audiences. In 2008, she launched BSO OrchKids, which provides music education, instruments, meals and mentorship of the city’s underserved young people. Engaging the local community, the BSO’s education programs also allow adult amateur musicians the chance to play alongside members of the orchestra under Alsop’s baton. In 2016, the orchestra celebrated its centennial season with Joshua Bell and hosted the League of American Orchestras annual conference.
Alsop took up the post of Principal Conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) in 2012 and became Music Director in July 2013, with her contract now extended to the end of 2019. She continues to steer the orchestra in its artistic and creative programming, recording ventures, and its education and outreach activities, as well as their annual Campos do Jordão International Winter Festival. Alsop led the orchestra on European tours in 2012 and 2013 with acclaimed performances at the BBC Proms in London, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and further concerts in Berlin, London, Paris, Salzburg and Vienna. In 2016, the orchestra returned to Europe once again for concerts at the BBC Proms, Edinburgh International and Lucerne festivals.
Marin Alsop now conducts the world’s major orchestras, with recent and forthcoming highlights including: the Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, La Scala Philharmonic, Budapest Festival and Danish National symphony orchestras, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. She has a close relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), appearing with both most seasons. She is also Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre in London. In September 2013, Marin Alsop made history as the first female conductor of the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms in London which she returned to conduct in 2015. She returned to the Proms in 2015 and 2016 to conduct the OAE in an all-Brahms program and Verdi’s Messa da Requiem on period instruments. 2016-2017 season highlights included a return to London for performances with the BBC Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, leading the Britten-Pears Orchestra at the Southbank Centre and a residency in Aldeburgh’s Snape Maltings.
July 2016 marked Marin Alsop’s 25th and final year as Music Director of California’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where she has built a devoted audience for new music. Building an orchestra is one of Alsop’s great gifts, and she retains strong links with all of her previous orchestras including the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Principal Conductor 2002-8; now Conductor Emeritus) and Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Music Director 1993-2005; now Music Director Laureate).
Marin Alsop is the recipient of numerous awards and is the only conductor to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, given to US residents in recognition of exceptional creative work. She was the only classical musician to be included in the Guardian’s “Top 100 women,” celebrating the centenary of International Women’s Day in 2011. Alsop is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, London and the Royal Philharmonic Society, and was recently appointed Director of the Graduate Conducting Program at the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute. Alsop’s Prokofiev cycle on Naxos with OSESP continues, following an extensive Naxos discography including a notable set of Brahms symphonies with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem with the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra, and a highly-praised Dvořák series with the BSO. Other award-winning recordings include Bernstein’s Mass (Editor’s Choice, Gramophone Awards 2010) and Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto (Grammy Award 2010). Alsop has also recorded for Decca Classics, Harmonia Mundi and Sony Classical.
Born in New York City, Marin Alsop attended Yale University and received her Master’s Degree from The Juilliard School. Her conducting career was launched when, in 1989, she was a prize-winner at the Leopold Stokowski International Conducting Competition and in the same year was the first woman to be awarded the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize from the Tanglewood Music Center, where she was a pupil of Leonard Bernstein.
Read Raquel’s Q&A in Baltimore Magazine!
RAQUEL WHITING GILMER
OrchKids Executive Director
I am so proud and honored to be part of this amazing OrchKids team and the program’s incredible work to create social change in our city through music. I grew up in Baltimore and have been passionate about transforming the lives of students through education since I was in high school. My mother taught me, from an early age, the importance of having great educational opportunities. She was a single mom who worked as a high-school teacher with the Baltimore City Public School System for 39 years. As a teacher, she was dedicated to providing her students with the best education possible. That’s why I’m so thrilled to continue her legacy through my role as Executive Director of OrchKids.
I know the transformational power that music can have in a child’s life. Although we had limited resources when I was growing up, my mother made sure music was a big part of my world, a tradition passed down to her from her grandmother. Every child in our family had to learn to play an instrument and my great-grandmother sacrificed to pay for my mom’s weekly piano lesson. I played the clarinet and the piano and while I didn’t continue my music studies after high school, the critical values of discipline, perseverance, and resilience I learned helped me be successful in my career. I am, therefore, passionate about working with OrchKids’ staff, teachers, parents, and volunteers to instill those same values and skills in the students we serve to help them achieve their own success.
When I think about what OrchKids has accomplished in the past nine years, I am truly in awe – thousands of students served, hundreds of performances, more than 30 students attending out of state summer opportunities, and more than 15 acceptances to the Baltimore School for the Arts. We have come a long way from OrchKids’ pilot program, which served 30 students from one elementary school, to now serving over 1,000 students from over 15 schools. None of this would have been possible without the crucial seed funding from BSO Maestra/OrchKids Founding Director Marin Alsop and Founding Donors Rheda Becker and Robert E. Meyerhoff..
OrchKids has an exciting future ahead of it and I look forward to seeing how many more young lives we transform in the next 9 years.
And she’s been working on this mission throughout her professional career. Most recently, she served as the Executive Vice President/COO for Learn It Systems, a national education company that provides academic support, afterschool enrichment programs, and special education services. In this role, she managed the operation of Learn It’s out-of-school time programs including oversight over multi-state program operations with over 500 full and part-time employees. Additionally, Raquel managed all Learn It’s legal and government-relations activities including advocating for Title I programs before state, local, and federal elected officials and serving as the founding chair of the board for Tutor Our Children, a campaign to preserve student supports for economically and academically disadvantaged students.
Prior to joining Learn It, Raquel served as Senior Director of Community and Business Development for Educate Online where she developed community marketing and outreach strategies which enhanced the company’s positive image and led to the recruitment of more than 15,000 students nationwide. She also developed national partnerships with sports and entertainment figures to build the company’s brand and market share throughout the U.S. and educated elected officials on the importance of tutoring services and advocated for expanded programming. Before Educate Online, Raquel managed several Democratic, statewide campaigns in pivotal, swing states and served as a senior fundraiser on Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign in 2000. Raquel also practiced law for several years at Arent Fox in their regulatory and public policy department where she provided regulatory counseling to several Fortune 500 companies and represented them in matters before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), and U.S. Customs.
Raquel grew up playing the piano and the clarinet and speaks often of the invaluable lessons she learned from having music in her life during her formative years. She is very active in the community and currently serves on the board of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School.
Raquel holds a Bachelor’s degree from Princeton University (cum laude) and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.
In 2015, Raquel was a SmartCEO Magazine Executive Management Awards winner and was named one of The Daily Record’s 2016 Maryland’s Top 100 Women.
She lives in Bellona Gittings with her husband Michael and their son Joshua Michael.