IGNITE Summer 2019 - Page 5

ations “ Welcome home.” Emblazoned on the entrance to the music room at Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School, these words are the first indication there’s something different about this orchestra. For starters, most of its players have no prior musical experience. Each member receives an instrument, sheet music, and training at no cost. The players are seated by birthday, rather than the usual skill-based seating arrangement. And their goal goes beyond just sounding good — they’re learning to live, as well as play, in harmony. “These students get to befriend people from different backgrounds they’d never meet otherwise,” says orchestra teacher Christine Mello- Hemsley. “They get to learn an instrument they’d never see otherwise. Who in South Philly has seen a harp or bassoon, let alone touched one? Here, they can.” An Orchestra Built on Empathy Art for Everybody At Neumann Goretti, students are required to take at least one year of fine arts, choosing from dance, visual art, choir, or orchestra. Under the guidance of Mello-Hemsley, a professional concert cellist, the orchestra has bloomed to over 80 students, making it the largest in the Archdiocese. The program relies on school support and community donations to equip each student to play, tune, maintain, and store their instruments. “We offer something to these kids that usually only students in the suburbs get,” Mello-Hemsley says. “Inner city kids want music just as badly as suburban kids, and they’ll work for it just as hard.” That hard work has led to impressive results. The orchestra has played at events for First Republic Bank, the Healey Education Foundation, as well as various holiday and Mass events. But before they ever share the stage, the students must first learn to share a space — one in which they all feel safe. 5