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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Celebrates Partnership with Buffalo Public Schools

This fall, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is celebrating its longstanding and ever-growing partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools – a partnership that has existed since the Orchestra was founded in 1935. The BPO has worked to expand their connections with BPS students and their families, particularly over the past decade, and is now providing 15 dedicated concerts for BPS students each year.

“We now serve almost 20,000 students, teachers and parents from the district each year, which is an incredible statement of support from a district with just over 31,000 students,” said Robin Parkinson, director of education and community engagement. “It is a testament to the understanding of and appreciation for music education that district administrators hold for our students.”

Parkinson notes that the connections forged with BPS allow the Orchestra to reach youth in every Buffalo neighborhood and make them feel at home watching performances at Kleinhans and learning about music through that experience.

“By attending a concert every year of their elementary schooling, BPS students will then gain ownership of the orchestra in their community. It will be a part of the fabric of their upbringing,” Parkinson said.  “The concert experience becomes a comfortable, familiar experience that young people will carry with them into adulthood. And by demonstrating music learning concepts that the students are learning in school, we help support their understanding of music.”

The BPO-BPS partnership is multi-faceted, providing students with opportunities to attend performances at Kleinhans, perform with and learn from the Orchestra’s musicians, and participate in competitions.

2017 Exceptional Holiday Concert for students with special needs.

Youth Concerts

The BPO’s Youth Concerts at Kleinhans began with inviting students in 4th and 5th grade to attend an annual concert. In 2010, they expanded to includes 1st and 2nd graders, and now it has grown to include all elementary students (grades 1-6), bringing about 18,000 students to Kleinhans to see one of the 12 concerts offered.

“These concerts are created with a team of music educators, musicians, administrators and BPO staff and are designed to introduce students to the best orchestral repertoire, focus on music learning concepts that are taught in the schools, encourage active participation through interactive program elements, and align with the Common Core standards,” Parkinson said.

Performance repertoire ranges from an interactive “building blocks” performance for Pre-K and Kindergarten students that incorporates singing and movement, to an in depth exploration of the people and instruments that comprise the orchestra for 1st through 4th graders, and an investigation into how music creates meaning for the older students.

This December, the BPO also presents its second annual concert dedicated to BPS students with special needs, to be held in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans. This room is specifically utilized because it puts the audience members on the same level as the musicians performing, giving them a more intimate experience.

“The program is interactive and very visual,” Parkinson said. “Last year, we had close to 200 people in attendance, including 46 in wheel chair seating. This concert helps us serve our mission to create access to the BPO for the whole community.”

BAVPA Side-by-Side performance with dancers

West Side Connection Program

The BPO’s West Side Connection program was established as a means to forge bonds with the neighborhood’s growing refugee and immigrant community, using music as a common language. Now in its 10th year, the program seeks to engage students in the 12 public schools located near Kleinhans Music Hall, which include Spanish bilingual schools, international schools, and a Native American magnet school.

The program includes educational activities, opportunities to meet artists, and a concert that celebrates the diversity of this West Side community. The orchestra also invites refugee and immigrants who are enrolled in the BPS adult education program to participate. The final performance is also broadcast to thousands of BPS students who do not attend the neighboring schools.

“The BPO has a unique opportunity in that the orchestra’s performance hall is in the middle of a residential neighborhood instead of being downtown or in a business district. This means we share our neighborhood with families and people who live here,” Parkinson said. “It just so happens that the residents of our neighborhood represent cultures from around the world! It is important to us to connect with them and one way to do this is through the schools, using music as our common language. It’s also important that we reflect the diversity of this audience on the stage, which we do through the guest artists and repertoire featured each year.”



Buffalo Academy for the Visual & Performing Arts Partnership

Student musician from BAVPA performs side-by-side with the BPO.

The BPO’s partnership with Buffalo Academy for the Visual & Performing Arts (BAVPA) is an important piece of its efforts to help young musicians develop their interest and skills, while also creating equitable access for those students to grow as musicians.

“The fact that the young musicians at BAVPA are from our urban Buffalo community and represent an under-served segment of this community makes this service all the more critical,” Parkinson said. “BAVPA is an influential institution for students who may have the interest and talent to excel in music, but otherwise would not have the resources to do so.  The BPO is proud to be one of those resources through this important partnership.”

Through their side-by-side program, the BPO connects BAVPA students to musician mentors. These mentors work with students throughout the year, preparing them for a culminating side-by-side concert at Kleinhans Music Hall. There, students have an opportunity to showcase their talents in not only musical performance, but also dance, theatre, visual and media arts.

The program serves 45 students who play orchestral instruments and 55 students who play non-orchestral instruments each year.

“The ultimate goal of the program is to provide for students an invaluable musical experience with the professional orchestra in their community and enhance their performance skills in preparation for success after graduation,” Parkinson said.

2017 Sphinx winner Ifetayo Ali performing with the BPO

Sphinx Competition

The Sphinx Organization was founded by Aaron Dworkin to respond to the under-representation of people of color in classical music and to foster diversity in the arts. Each year, the Sphinx Organization hosts a national competition in Detroit to develop and showcase the talents of young Black and Latinx string musicians. The competition is open to junior high, high school and college students and provides an opportunity for them to perform alongside professional musicians and have their performance critiqued by a panel of internationally renowned judges.

The BPO hosts the junior division winner, a high school student, every year as part of its West Side Connection program. That student participates in educational outreach programming in local schools and also has the opportunity to perform on stage with the BPO.

To learn more about the BPO’s education initiatives, visit their website.

See below for some of the BPO’s upcoming shows:

The Broadway Legacy Concert 

Composer Jerry Herman’s timeless musicals will be brought to life on the Kleinhans stage with singers and the BPO.

Friday, October 19, 10:30 a.m.

Saturday, October 20, 8:00 p.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

Tickets: $29-$85


BPO Kids Symphonic Spooktacular

Youth and families are invited to come in costume to enjoy some spooky compositions and join the costume parade! Free pre-show activities begin at 1:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 21, 2:30 p.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

Tickets: $14-$24


Paderewski’s Poland

The BPO celebrates 100 years of Polish independence and the warm relationship between Buffalo and Poland, featuring Paderewski’s Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony.

Saturday, October 27, 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 28, 2:30 p.m.

Kleinhans Music Hall

Tickets: $29-$85


Lead Image: A school bus arriving at Kleinhans Music Hall in 1947.

This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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