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Detroit Symphony Orchestra hopes to give musical instruments to Detroit children

For the first time in 16 years, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will embark on an international tour. This will mark the first time that the DSO will perform in China.
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra rehearses on stage at Orchestra Hall.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is hoping to give an instrument to every single Detroit student who wants to play one. In addition, it wants to provide access to music education for these kids and create jobs for Detroiters.

Caen Thomason-Redus is the director of community programs for the DSO. He provides an ambitious scope for the project, called Detroit Harmony.

“Anytime we're seeking to truly remove all of the barriers to something like music education, we cannot ignore the other issues that those students and families are facing.”

So once those kids have their instruments, they have to actually find a way to learn to play them. Thomason-Redus says this is where creating jobs for Detroiters is crucial. 

“There will be increased opportunities for supplemental music instruction. That’s in the form of private lessons, coaching, after-school programs, that kind of thing.” He adds that “we’d love to work in partnership with public schools and school districts to see if there is interest in increasing their music programs.”


Also important are jobs that aren't music instruction.


“Those are things like repairing the instruments we’ll be distributing, and maintaining them over time,” says Thomason-Redus.

Some of the other big steps in job creation are only tangentially related to music itself, but are still crucial in connecting members of the community.

“Those are things like driving the buses; there’s going to be a lot of transportation needs when you talk about getting kids and families from their communities to the various opportunities around the city. Currently, one of the major barriers is transportation, so we’ll be looking at a variety of solutions to that,” says Thomason-Redus.

Another major barrier?

“Currently, any music program that is trying to get past barriers starts to get into some kind of social service work, and we’re going to need social service providers who can help with that,” he says.

Thomason-Redus also says the success of Detroit Harmony is very much based in the community, and will rely on the cooperation of all stakeholders: everyone from community members themselves, to organizations like schools and funding organizations.

“It is not the DSO saying ‘Detroit needs music education.’ It's going to be Detroit itself saying ‘we need consistent, high-quality music education for every student regardless of what school they're in, what neighborhood they're in.’ Any of those things that have been barriers or excuses in the past, we want to go away,” he says.

Thomason-Redus says that phase one of planning is over, and the DSO is currently accepting applications and interviewing applicants for the position of project manager. The next 18 months will be spent planning the implementation of Detroit Harmony.

“The most likely outcome is that we will see staged scaling up of different activities. For instance, for us at the DSO, the collection of musical instruments so we can get them out to schools and music programs, that’s something we’ve already prototyped and did a small pilot project with, and we want to begin scaling up, even within the next 18 months,” he says.

The scale of the project is such that this will most likely not all happen overnight. 

“Most of the activity that will be proposed as part of Detroit Harmony will not begin or increase until after the planning phase. It might be that we do small focus groups or workshops or pilot programs for a few small things during the next 18 months, but the expectation is that the next 18 months are for planning and consensus and understanding, so that the true program rollout can begin after the 18 month period. It’ll be a staged rollout from that point on,” says Thomason-Redus.




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