By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have silenced its concert hall, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra (FSO) is working in overdrive to give back to students across the Washington Metropolitan region with its music education program “Link Up.” With the demand of arts education and the pivot of educating, entertaining and engaging through the virtual platform, FSO has grown “Link Up,” exponentially, going from servicing 1,100 Fairfax students in 2019, to 10,000 pupils from more than 60 schools across the D.M.V.
“Our commitment to our community is stronger than ever, only strengthened by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. By sharing our concerts and education programs virtually, we are filling a critical need for quality arts programs to entertain, educate, inspire, sustain and unite the communities we serve,” said FSO Executive Director Jonathan Kerr, in a statement submitted to the AFRO.
Developed by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, with arts organizations across the globe using the evidence-based music instruction curriculum, for 30 years “Link Up” has connected the classroom to the concert hall for students in Grades 3-5. For the past four years, FSO has been the only arts organization implementing the program in the Washington Metropolitan area, specifically targeting Title 1 schools- particularly with large populations of minority and low-income students.
To constitute as a Title I institution, at least 40 percent of the student population must be considered low-income. Title I schools, according to StudentDebtRelief.us, is the largest and oldest federally funded education program- dating back to 1965- and provides assistance for additional resources and programming to assist with students’ growth and prevent them from falling behind due to systemic structures.
With “Link Up,” FSO is servicing more than 60 schools across Virginia’s Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Alexandria Counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in MD, and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). In DCPS alone, FSO is serving 21 schools this year, 15 of them considered Title I institutions.
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra’s focus on Title I schools is intentional due to the potentially grand impact such programming can have on the institutions’ students, many of whom are presented with disparate public education arts opportunities.
Further, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in play, teachers are in desperate need of effective, inexpensive virtual music curriculums. To answer the demand for music programming, FSO made “Link Up,” free for the 2020/ 2021 school year. This year’s curriculum theme is “Look Up: When the Orchestra Swings,” which, through a hands-on approach, examines the intersection of classical music and jazz through the lens of composers Florence Price, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Courtney Bryant. In addition, through studying rhythm, improvisation, form and communication, the students will do activities to help them understand why, “it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing,” as Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald famously sang.
For its work with “Link Up”, FSO was one of five organizations honored as a 2021 Dominion Energy ArtStar. Each honoree, all of whom were required to have operating annual budgets under $1 million, were awarded a $10,000 grant for their exceptional work in arts education.
“These organizations show ways the creative spirit continues to thrive – whether through outdoor, virtual or digital programming,” said President of the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation Hunter A. Applewhite. “Virginia is very fortunate to have these talented organizations committed to serving their local communities and youth.”
“We are thrilled and honored to be a 2021 Dominion ArtStar in recognition of our work to serve teachers and students by implementing our much-needed “Link Up” education program virtually this year,” Kerr said.
This honor comes after FSO’s longtime commitment to education since its founding in 1957, having worked with Fairfax schools for more than 40 years.
As FSO Executive Director, Kerr also emphasized that the 2021 Dominion Energy ArtStar honor assists in continuing and strengthening the organization’s efforts. “This prestigious award furthers our work to provide unique, innovative, and uplifting arts experiences for thousands in Fairfax County and across our region.”