Stand By Me

I got to see a short concert by the Bravo Youth Orchestra this morning.

The orchestra is from Rosa Parks, the elementary school a few blocks away from Bridge Meadows, where I live.  The orchestra started last year with an intensive music program and now the kids are performing in venues all over the city.  The kids have various levels of mastery, but they’re all living better lives because of the Bravo Program.  Here’s their Mission in their own words from their website:



BRAVO transforms the lives of underserved youth through intensive classical music instruction emphasizing collaboration, promoting self-confidence, and creating a community where children thrive.


Inspired by El Sistema in Venezuela, BRAVO will establish in Oregon a network of youth orchestras for social change serving both urban and rural communities with a high concentration of poverty.


  • Inclusion: Embracing racial, cultural and economic diversity by honoring the unique contributions of each child and family.
  • Equity: Improving academic and social outcomes of underserved children.
  • Excellence: Pursuing the highest musical standards through rigorous education.
  • Social Responsibility: Encouraging children
    to participate in their communities.
  • Joy: Strengthening the spirit in all that we do.”


That’s professional bassist Andre St. James who helps with the orchestra.  It hurts and astounds him that these orchestras aren’t in every school. 

Can programs like this really work?  I can see the success in the shining eyes of the children as they tuned their instruments, and again as they concentrated on the sheet music.  The best part was when they closed their eyes as they were swept up in their own playing.  The orchestra has professional musicians, teachers and college apprentices to help unify the music.  The children hear excellence and rise to the occasion.   They sing the parts they can’t quite play yet and the sound of their young voices was a delight.

They played a variety of pieces, including Stand By Me, the beautiful old song by Ben E. King.  The conductor said some of the children found out the teachers got the more difficult parts of the music, so the kids took the the sheet music home, practiced more and were ready to play along for the whole song.  Other members sang the lyrics and it touched my heart to hear I won’t be afraid, I won’t shed a tear, as long as you stand by  me.

We so need to stand by our children, offer them the instruments and the education they need to grow to their

Quick sketch of equity, excellence and joy

full potential.  Programs like this shouldn’t be rare.  We are a wealthy nation and yet our children are experiencing poverty and neglect at alarming rates. I see the way neglect breaks children down — and it’s not just the poverty.  Poverty is a manageable fact of life.  It’s the social neglect, underfunding of education, and very real lack of safety nets for many families. It’s seeing wealth all around them.  It’s the shame and derision we heap upon those who are poor. That wears down the resilience of us all.  It keeps the souls of children from flowering.

But this group nourishes parched souls.  No matter what else happens in these children’s lives, they will have music.  They can turn back to it again and again.  We all stood to sing We Shall Overcome with them.  How very moving to hear the voices of the elders of this community, the children we mentor, and these young musicians join together in the spirit of that song.  We are among the very lucky.  Deep in my heart, I hope to see that luck become common. 

“Music Changes Everything” was written on the back of some of their T-shirts. If you’d like to see more of that change, check out their website:

You can see a news segment about the origins of the orchestra here:

Keep a song in your heart and thanks for reading my post.