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PSO musicians shell out $5,000 to bus Pittsburgh students to concert

Thursday, May 23, 2002

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra donates its time for 12 school concerts each season. The concerts are free for the students, and orchestra volunteers even help the teachers prepare for the experience. In fact, the symphony does everything but drive the students to Heinz Hall.

Until now, that is.

Frustrated by a 10-year absence of Pittsburgh Public School students from concerts due to a reduced travel budget, PSO players opened up their own wallets and "put our money where our beliefs are," said PSO member Paul Silver. The musicians came up with the $5,000 necessary to hire 50 buses, allowing 2,000 second-grade public school students to hear a concert today.

"We used to have more money available for learning experiences such as these," said Pat Crawford, director of Communications for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. "There are a lot of competing demands for the funding, and if you are looking to hiring a teacher because classes are too big, the money goes there. It is a fact of life that our budget doesn't go as far -- we can't finance as many activities as other school districts."

Indeed, suburban schools have been sending 2nd, 4th and 6th- grade students to Heinz Hall for years. Ironically, the schools that are closer to Heinz Hall couldn't do it. "We can't afford it," said Crawford.

When PSO musicians found out last spring that they could intervene, the decision was unanimous.

"The orchestra felt strongly that it's a no-lose situation if you can get the kids to come," said Silver. "We thought this would be an appropriate use of money to chip in."

The funds came from the musicians' pockets, from a "pass the hat" collection they set aside for sending flowers to funerals, for operating the players' lounge and for other personal uses. It's not a large amount of money. "There was just enough left this season to cover the cost of the busing," said PSO spokeswoman Jody Doherty. Equitable Resources, an energy company, covered the production costs for the concert, which was specially added to the education schedule.

The musicians hope the experience touches the students like it did them. "I can remember going to my first concert," said Silver, a violist. "It is important to show that there is much more to life out there. Everyone is aware of the importance of museums, and music has to do the same thing. This is one way we can ensure that young people can be exposed to it."

But the action carries larger implications, as well. "By the gesture, we hope to show the board of education of the Pittsburgh schools that the lack of a bus should not mean the lack of arts education for children who are just starting out in life," said Silver, who adds that the PSO will not do this "every time."

That message has already hit home to Crawford. "The fact that the buses are being paid for by the symphony musicians really demonstrates their commitment to exposing the kids to classical music," she said. "I hope that the program would be continued in some way. We've got to find the money somewhere."

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