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Photo: Dr. David S. Weiland
Conductor Joseph Young with the Berkeley Symphony. Young credits Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with expertly mentoring his career.

Never underestimate the good you can do by being someone’s mentor. In this story, a woman conductor was the rock a young African American musician leaned on. Today he mentors others.

Lisa Houston writes at San Francisco Classical Voice, “Conducting is not a low-stress career. When the Berkeley Symphony called on Joseph Young to step in, the conductor had just two days to get up to speed on Leonard Bernstein’s second symphony, aptly named The Age of Anxiety, as well as the ominous majesty of the four orchestral interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes. By all accounts he rose to the task admirably.

” ‘I didn’t sleep,’ Young says. ‘I even had a concert with the San Francisco Symphony that weekend as well. It was a great weekend of music making and I enjoyed every second of it, but I didn’t sleep until I got back to Baltimore.’

“In the wake of this triumph, Young was offered the music directorship for a three-year post. …

“The son of a Navy man, Young’s family moved around a fair amount in his childhood before settling in Goose Creek, South Carolina, best known for its naval base, and an area where Young’s mother’s family resided.

” ‘We heard music mostly in church,’ he says. ‘My mom comes from an extended family so I grew up going to the same high school she went to, the same church she grew up in, so we have a very tight-knit big family.’ …

“Young has known he wanted to conduct since he first heard an orchestra at the age of 16. ‘Sixteen was the first time I actually saw an orchestra, but it was also the first time I got to stand in front of an orchestra. It wasn’t any piece in particular, it was just the sound in front of me. I was a very introverted teenager and the idea of emoting what you wanted musically without saying a word was … I want to say cathartic. I was finding a way toward finding my voice.’

“An important mentor for Young has been Marin Alsop. …

‘I went up to her and said “I really want to go to grad school for conducting” and she said “why don’t you come study with me.” That moment changed my life.

” ‘Before that I had no examples. I had no mentor. All I knew was that I wanted to conduct orchestras. In that moment I had all of that. Someone from whom I learned there is a transcendental power in what we do in music, which I began to appreciate. Someone who showed me, by example, to be a leader not only of an orchestra, but of a community, as when I was with her in Baltimore. Someone trusting my own talent, my own musicality, giving to me, and showing me that this is a process, and it takes time. As a young conductor I was very eager to go, go, go! and she was there along the whole journey.

“ ‘I’m teaching with her now at Peabody [Conservatory in Baltimore], where we’re both teaching conducting. It’s kind of a strange to teach alongside someone who taught you, and at the school you went to! But seeing the students go through the same journey musically makes me realize how much more I appreciate being in that room with her throughout my early career.’ …

Asking Young about the upcoming repertoire for Berkeley is like asking a grandparent to describe in detail how cute their grandchildren are. He is effusive, delighted, and quite simply in love. …

“ ‘I wanted this season to be about focusing on the community, showcasing the community, investigating the community, not only Berkeley, but the Bay area.’ …

“For the first of four symphonic concerts, which took place Oct. 24, Young wanted to feature a friend of the orchestra, so Conrad Tao returned to play Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. The program also featured a work of Olly Wilson.

“ ‘There’s a group of African-American composers that I have always wanted to conduct, and one of them happened to be from Berkeley. … I knew I wanted to feature an African-American composer somewhere in my season and I thought this was a great tribute not only to him, but to Berkeley, and also a way to strengthen the relationship between the Berkeley Symphony and UC Berkeley.’ …

“The season’s second symphonic concert on Feb. 6 is titled ‘You Have a Voice,’ and will feature the San Francisco Girls Chorus in a work by Mary Kouyoumdjian called Become Who I Am.

“ ‘Her piece talks about gender inequality, girls with confidence issues, and we have these young girls singing the parts, so I think it’s going to be a very empowering kind of message.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Pruning trees in Baltimore helps to keep them healthy. “We are making a difference,” says Erik Dihle, arborist for the city of Baltimore. … “It ties into social equity, into climate adaption, everything.”

The value of tree canopies in cities is not a new topic at this blog. I’ve written often about efforts around the world to capture the physical- and mental-health benefits of urban forests (for example, in 2014, 2017, and last summer).

I’m not sure, though, that I ever knew how forward-thinking Baltimore has been, a city that was recently disparaged by a kind of leader unfamiliar with actual leadership.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “From his headquarters office, Erik Dihle drives into what has become one of the most monitored forests in the United States.

“He begins to point out the trees: There is a tulip poplar, as big as the ones George Washington planted at Mount Vernon. There are the blossoming cherries, with a cotton-candy display that rivals their famous compatriots down the road at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. And there is a white oak, Maryland’s state tree, with its branches gnarling horizontally for yards.

“ ‘This is a good-size one,’ he says, getting out of his truck to pace the area of shade created by the tree’s canopy. ‘I’d be surprised if it was less than 150 years old.’ …

“Mr. Dihle’s forest is in the city. He is the arborist and the head of forestry for the city of Baltimore, which means he monitors all the trees here – those growing in shady parks, in metal grates along busy streets, in backyards, and in relatively untouched forest patches dotting the municipality. Together, these trees make up what is called the city’s ‘urban forest.’ …

“With concern growing about climate change and rapid worldwide urbanization, city forests have emerged as one widely touted solution to a host of social and environmental challenges. Municipalities from Barcelona, Spain; to Melbourne, Australia; to Chicago have put urban canopy coverage at the center of their long-term strategic plans. Community groups focusing on planting, maintaining, and saving trees have blossomed across the U.S. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities named increasing green canopy coverage as one of its top 10 urban initiatives.

“Yet at the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which in the past decade has also upped its focus on urban forests, has found that American cities are losing trees – and quickly. … Urban regions showed a particular decline, along with an increase in what the researchers call ‘impervious surfaces’ – in other words, concrete.

“But not, it turns out, in Baltimore.

“Here, the net tree canopy coverage has increased. Not by a lot, Mr. Dihle is quick to point out – only from 27% of the city’s land coverage to 28% – and not because Baltimore hasn’t lost trees. It has. But overall the tree canopy here has grown, which means that Mr. Dihle has found himself presiding over one of the more successful efforts in the U.S. to preserve and improve the urban forest. …

“New technology has let researchers better understand the urban ecosystem – not just how trees thrive or fail in a city, but how they intersect with humans.

‘[Trees] impact work productivity, wildlife habitats, air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, energy use,’ says David Nowak, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who authored the recent national report on tree canopy loss. … ‘We should be smart about this whole process and use nature to make our lives better.’

Much of the understanding of how, exactly, trees affect everything from climate to criminal justice stems from a technological breakthrough pioneered in Baltimore. …

“By the 1990s, satellite imagery allowed governmental agencies such as NASA to produce visible images of Earth and to show on various scales where trees existed. But there was a limit to those pictures, explains Morgan Grove, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who has worked in Baltimore since 1999. Because the data were recorded in pixels, not physical parcels, it was difficult to identify, say, the owner of a particular tree, or to compare what was happening from one city block to another.

“In 2006, though, the Forest Service, working with researchers from the University of Vermont’s spatial analysis lab, put together a new type of land cover map in Baltimore using a combination of aerial imagery, light-reflecting technology, and high-resolution landowner data. This novel approach not only allowed a closer look at trees, it also let scientists synchronize forest maps with other information that was also newly computerized and manipulable – everything from health records to census figures, crime statistics to property values.”

Learn about the amazing array of data they were able to collect, how data helped the city prevent nascent problems like storm sewer overflow, and how the community has organized to protect and expand urban forest benefits, here.

By the way, I thought the photographer on this story, Melanie Stetson Freeman, did an especially good job capturing the faces of these tree huggers. It helps one understand that the individual and the things an individual cares about are what improve the world.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Men in need of a suit for a funeral, say, or a job interview can get one fitted to perfection at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

When my daughter-in-law’s parents were doing spring cleaning one year, they donated boxes of clothes in excellent condition to one of the Providence agencies where I’m an ESL volunteer. Dorcas International has many services besides English classes, and one of them is a secondhand shop that provides household goods and clothes for refugees (if you are used to Africa, you definitely need a warm coat for Rhode Island winters) and for needy residents referred by other agencies.

I was glad to learn that there are similar services in other cities.

David Karas writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

“A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man.

“Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. …

“ ‘It’s a blessing that they are here,’ says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. …

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse. …

“[Some years ago,] When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return.

“ ‘He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,’ Schafer says. ‘They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.’

“Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. …

” ‘Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,’ Schafer says. .. ‘If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity. … It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,’ he says. …

” ‘I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,’ he says. … ‘That’s why I do it.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: John Waire/Washington Post
Richard Antoine White behind the scenes during the filming of “R.A.W,” a documentary about his life and musical career.

What is it about tuba players and altruism? Maybe I should say, What is it about Baltimore tuba players?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a Baltimore tuba player’s inspiring outreach to young impoverished musicians (here), and now I have a related story about a tuba player who grew up poor in Baltimore and now mentors kids.

Tim Smith writes at the Baltimore Sun, “Richard Antoine White looks back on his life — poverty and an unsettled family life growing up in [the Sandtown section of Baltimore]; tuba studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute and Indiana University; his current jobs with the New Mexico Philharmonic and University of New Mexico — and sums it up simply: ‘The American Dream is still alive and well.’ …

“White’s successful pursuit of that dream has been chronicled in the documentary ‘R.A.W.’ (White’s initials) by Baltimore filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson, co-founders of Early Light Media. …

“ ‘I feel honored and humbled that they wanted to do a film about me,’ says White, 45. ‘There was an awe factor when they showed up in Albuquerque. I thought, you guys are really going to follow me around with a camera? But I trusted them to tell this story appropriately.’

“Storytelling is a specialty for Durlach and Larson. They formed their production company not only to make a living (clients for their video work include companies and foundations, local and beyond), but also to give themselves an outlet for spotlighting worthy individuals and causes. … The duo decided to direct that interest into Invisible Thread, a venture they envisioned as a series of ‘people-driven stories.’ …

“[Their first film] had a screening at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Durlach and Larson met the school’s director, Chris Ford.

“ ‘We were talking with him about an idea we had for a feature film about the arts, specifically arts education, in our culture,’ Durlach says, ‘how the arts are misunderstood, underfunded, and underutilized. And Chris said, “You know who you need to talk to is Richard White.” …

“ ‘The second we met Richard, we fell in love with him and were inspired by him,’ Durlach says. … For several days, the filmmakers shadowed White to chronicle his life in Albuquerque, where he is principal tuba in the New Mexico Philharmonic and associate professor of tuba/euphonium and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the University of New Mexico.

“The action then shifted to Baltimore, where more filming took place at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody. The filmmakers also accompanied White to places in Sandtown, where he spent difficult years as a child and had largely avoided revisiting.

“ ‘Family members would sometimes let my mom and I sleep on a couch,’ White says. ‘Sometimes I slept under a tree or in an abandoned house. My mom had problems with alcoholism and finally gave me up. Her foster parents took me in. …’

“After White’s life smoothed out with the help of his foster parents, he found himself drawn to music — first the trumpet, then the tuba, which he learned partly with the help of a self-teaching tape. That gave him the confidence to go to the Baltimore School for the Arts, ready to audition for admission. … White gained admission.

“ ‘That proved to be a good decision on our part,’ Ford says. ‘He was an incredible worker. Through sheer grit, he was pushing past everyone. And he was a delightful individual throughout. ….

“ ‘Richard moved from someone who needed a handout to someone who now puts his hand out to help others,’ Ford says. ‘He’s been really powerful mentoring some of our kids.’ ” More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun
Tuba player Dan Trahey has helped make OrchKids a national model for lifting up kids. “We’re all interconnected,” he says. “We’re bad at this in America, where we’re all bred to be soloists. We create our own little worlds, and that’s really dangerous.”

When I was in second grade, my mother convinced the school principal to show a movie for children that I think came from the United Nations. It involved hand puppets who were enemies. And what I remember most was that in the end, each puppet felt its way up the arm of the puppeteer and discovered that they were connected.

That message, the message about human interconnectedness, is always having to be retaught, but people who understand it often get involved in initiatives that help disadvantaged children. Consider this story.

Michael Cooper writes at the New York Times, “From the outside, Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School looks forbidding, a tan monolith built in the 1970s. Some of the rowhouses across the street are boarded up — reminders of the cycles of poverty and abandonment this city has struggled with for years.

“Inside on an afternoon [in April], though, it was a different story. Music echoed through brightly colored halls lined with murals. Classes were over, but school was not out: Young string players rehearsed Beethoven in one classroom, while flutists practiced in another and brass players worked on fanfares in a third. Also on offer were homework tutors, an after-school snack and dinner. …

“It was just another afternoon at OrchKids, the free after-school program that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Marin Alsop, started a decade ago with just 30 children in a single school. The program now reaches 1,300 students in six schools; its participants have gone on to win scholarships to prestigious summer music programs; play with famous musicians, including the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; perform at halftime at a Baltimore Ravens game; and win accolades at the White House.

“The program was the idea of Ms. Alsop, who began thinking about how to forge closer ties to the city soon after she became Baltimore’s music director — and the first woman to lead a major American symphony orchestra — in 2007. …

“The first student to enroll in the program was Keith Fleming, then a first grader. ‘At first I didn’t really like music,’ he recalled recently. ‘I just thought, I’m going to do this because I didn’t really have something else to do. The first day came, and I started to learn music — and I started to like it.’

“He is 15 now, and his tuba skills have taken him to Austria and London and helped him win an audition to the Baltimore School of the Arts, where he is a sophomore. …

“From the very beginning,” [Nick Skinner, the OrchKids director of operations], said, ‘it was very important that we were immersed in the school, and in the community.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here. And there’s a nice article at the Baltimore Sun about tuba player and OrchKids volunteer Dan Trahey, here.

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Photo: Sean Scheidt
Boys in Baltimore are being given an unexpected opportunity and are giving back to the school that makes it possible.

Something unusual is happening in Baltimore. Boys offered free ballet are loving it.

Gabriella Souza reports at Baltimore Magazine, “The audience seated in folding chairs stares curiously at the dancers in front of them. Perhaps, the performers aren’t what these families and elderly couples think of when they hear the word ‘ballet.’ After all, there are no tutus or pink-ribboned shoes in sight. Instead, seven boys of varying heights, ages, and races stand before them on the carpeting, barefooted and wearing khakis and bold-colored T-shirts. …

“ ‘What are we in for?’ the audience seems to be wondering this day in April. When the boys begin to move, it all makes sense. Their motions are controlled, graceful, and musical, and their bodies appear weightless as they fly through the air or lift high up onto their toes. Their artistry combines strength, vivacity, and masculinity. …

“The dancers are part of the Estelle Dennis/Peabody Dance Training Program for Boys, which gives young men ages 9 to 18 tuition-free admission to Peabody Dance, the after-school dance training program that is part of the community school affiliated with the lauded Peabody Institute. …

“In 2009, as a way to attract boys to the program, advisers and instructors decided a scholarship program could encourage families who couldn’t afford training, or who otherwise might be hesitant. The small proportion of boys to girls in ballet has been noted nationally, and though statistics on the subject are hard to find, for years teachers have reported that they often only have a single boy in their classes, if any.

“ ‘There has always been this underlying thought from fathers — and mothers, too — that they didn’t raise their boys to be ballet dancers. It still exists to some degree, but much less,’ says Barbara Weisberger, who is Peabody Dance’s artistic adviser. ‘This program is helping to remove that stigma, because these boys are wonderful talents. They’re a joy to watch.’ …

“Barbara Weisberger still remembers the first auditions she oversaw for the Estelle Dennis program in May 2009. Walking into The Mount Royal School and Roland Park Elementary/Middle School that day, she drew her breath in amazement as she saw dozens of boys, 60 total, who were black and white and of all ages, waiting to show her what they could do.

“Though most of them were hip-hop dancers, it didn’t matter to Weisberger — their enthusiasm was contagious — and it didn’t seem to matter to the boys that she was showing them a completely different style of dance. They were just excited to move. ‘They enjoyed themselves so much. They were so musical, they were such fun.’ …

“ ‘There’s a different, masculine culture that they’ve brought,’ says [Melissa Stafford, Peabody Dance director and department chair], who became director and department chair in 2013. … ‘When you step out for a five-minute rehearsal break, you’ll come back to the boys doing three pirouettes and trying to outdo each other in a friendly, competitive way. That camaraderie they have with the other guys has changed the energy of the school.’ More here.

No question that ballet is demanding and athletic enough to satisfy many boys. Case in point: this football player’s comment, “Ballet is harder than anything else I do”!

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Photo: Atlanta Black Star

CBS News recently had a story on how a Baltimore school and its children are benefiting from meditation.

“During the morning rush,” CBS reports, “Robert W. Coleman Elementary School is as bustling as any other school. But after the buses arrive and the kids pour in, the usual classroom chatter comes to a complete stop.

“The students here learn to seek their inner peace. Every day begins with what the school calls a ‘mindful moment’ – a 15-minute blend of yoga and meditation.

“It’s not what you’d expect from a school in West Baltimore, but it’s the dream of two brothers from right here in the neighborhood, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

“Twice a day, more than 300 students take part in the ‘Mindful Moments’ program. They learn to breathe, stretch and block out distractions.

“Principal Carillian Thompson said this has made a ‘huge difference.’ … ‘We’ve had zero suspensions,’ Thompson said.

“When students fight or misbehave at Coleman, they aren’t sent to the principal’s office. Instead, they are sent to the ‘mindful me’ room, where they’re taught to resolve conflicts peacefully and teach each other what they’ve learned.

“ ‘When I was breathing, all the things that’s been happening, I passed that on — all the problems, I passed that on and worried about… what’s more important,’ Sierra said.

“The program is the vision of Ali and Atman Smith, who grew up nearby in one of Baltimore’s most volatile neighborhoods.

“ ‘There’s violence going on in the neighborhoods, there’s drug abuse in the neighborhoods, so it’s just, there’s all these things just getting dumped on these kids and they need a way to kind of deal with it,’ said Ali Smith, co-founder of Holistic Life Foundation. …

“ ‘We’re teaching kids at a young age to try to really make a change in our community as far as how conflicts are resolved,’ said Atman Smith.”

More at CBS News, here.

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