IGNITE Summer 2019 - Page 6

Songs, and a Place to Belong Neumann Goretti’s orchestra boasts members from Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, Liberia, and China. Freshmen sit next to seniors. Football players trade tips with mathletes. Some students don’t speak English at all, relying on the music to find common ground. “It’s like a big family,” says Ka’Niyah Roten, a 10th grade saxophone player. “No matter where you come from, you are accepted.” The trust-based approach fosters an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable coaching one another. Since skilled players sit alongside beginners, participants share advice — in music, or with more personal matters. It’s not uncommon for the students to turn to peers for emotional support and encouragement. “If I walk into the orchestra room crying, I know anyone in the room is willing to listen and help me solve my problems, including Ms. Mello,” says Angelina Cappetti, an 11th grade violin player. “I feel like I can be myself around everyone here.” “Everyone carries baggage,” Mello-Hemsley adds. “It could be that you got made fun of on 6 the subway for speaking a different language. Or you have a different skin color. Or you’re worried you’ll never clear the glass ceiling. Or you’re concerned you’ll get blamed for something you had no part of. You come here, put your baggage aside, and we all grow together.” A Legacy of Compassion To further that growth, Mello-Hemsley is looking to expand the program with strategic partnerships. The program is always in need of more instruments, space, and musical specialists. And by building connections with local colleges and Neumann Goretti’s own entrepreneurship program, she can help students secure sustainable careers in music. Mello-Hemsley admits managing such a large project is a major undertaking. But she’s passionate about the program because she’s an example of how the program can spark passion for music — and even save lives. “I grew up in South Philly under the poverty line, with an incredible sense of pain from being poor,” she recalls. “When I came to Goretti on a scholarship and was asked what instrument