Did you know that kids who are involved in music are more likely to score higher on standardized tests? It’s true — papers from respected journals, such as The Journal of Educational Psychology and The British Journal of Psychology have done extensive research on this matter. So, why aren’t our local public school orchestra programs supported by our public school districts?

Mahi Nooka

Unfortunately, not many adults involve themselves with youth orchestra programs, or even bother to learn about them. But, I believe that absolutely needs to change.

My name is Mahi Nooka. I’m 14 years old and I’m an eighth grader at Dr. John Long Middle School. I have been playing the violin for four years and I was invited to give my opinion on this subject by Neighborhood News editor Gary Nager because of a disturbing pattern I’ve noticed: our local youth orchestras are not being supported by the Pasco County School District or the local community.

You see, school orchestra programs in this area aren’t well-known or funded properly. I’m in both my school orchestra at Dr. John Long and in an outside program called the Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (or TMYO). It’s well known that the arts historically have had a low priority in Florida’s public schools, especially compared to sports and other money-making activities and I don’t think that’s fair or just.

But, even within the arts, there is a hierarchy; specifically, within school music programs. Orchestra programs are almost always given a lower priority than band programs in the amount and quality of resources provided. I’ve seen bands (especially high school marching bands) get larger classrooms, uniforms, and spots on the school’s website, while the orchestra programs are stuck using the same equipment for the past sixteen years or more. 

It doesn’t make sense to me, though. I know that music has the ability to change kids’ lives — it has changed mine drastically. I started in orchestra in the 6th grade (although I’ve been taking private lessons since the 4th grade) and came to love it.

In the 7th grade, my private teacher recommended that I join an outside program to supplement my school experiences, and we found TMYO, a youth orchestra program located in Hillsborough County. I auditioned for one of the four groups they had that matched my skill level best, and I loved it so much that I auditioned again this year, for the next higher group. Currently, I’m proud to say that I am sitting fourth chair in the second violin section at TMYO. 

One thing I can tell you through my experience is that orchestra is like a family. It teaches teamwork and lets us form incredible bonds. I’m more confident and passionate because of it, and my fellow musicians and I are comparable to siblings. Orchestra gave me that, and I’m hoping that if orchestra programs are better nourished, other kids can have that, too. 

However, whether orchestra programs can thrive or not doesn’t depend upon us as musicians. The success of these programs depends heavily upon public participation — on people like you knowing about our programs and taking the initiative to support us. 

That brings us to the real question: How can you support us? 

Mahi Nooka (2nd from left in front row) is a violinist in both the Long Middle School orchestra and the Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra who would like to see more public support for youth orchestra programs.

Attending an orchestra concert is a great way to help. By attending, you’re showing that the kids’ hard work is not for nothing, and that someone cares. This is vital to developing confidence and allows us to practice performing in front of an audience (two essential skills for musicians). 

Trust me, it doesn’t feel good when your auditorium is half-full and you’re performing for barely fifty people. This may seem like a lot of people to some of you, but think of how many people go to sporting events, especially football games. 

And honestly, if nothing else, concerts are just a great way to spend time and involve yourself with the community. Though I’m not sure about other programs and schools, the concert for Dr. John Long is on Wednesday, May 4, at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel, and the next concert for TMYO is on Saturday, May 14, at the USF School of Music in Tampa. The general public is invited to attend both of these events. 

In addition to simply attending an orchestra concert, many local nonprofit programs have options for donations on their website. I know TMYO does (tmyo.org/make-a-donation) and so do many others in the area: the Florida Youth Orchestra (floridayouthorchestra.org/donate), and the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra (fsyo.org/support-fsyo). Donating lets our orchestras continue to exist and allows young musicians continue to express themselves creatively. 

If you’re not interested in donating or attending, you can still help by spreading the word. Discussing the benefits of orchestra programs can help stir up interest in the programs, and some parents might even check out orchestra programs for their own kids. It may seem like a little thing, but it can help a lot. 

And so, I’ve made my case. The youth orchestra programs need to be supported, and I’ve done my part to ensure that happens by having this article published in the Neighborhood News. I will keep advocating in the background because of my love for orchestra, but there is only so much I can do. I hope I have inspired you to take action. This is your chance to give back and make an impact — one that will be appreciated by young orchestral musicians in our community.

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