A symphony of broken instruments gives hope to young musicians' dreams

In 2007, the support for the arts across the entire school district of Philadelphia was $1.3 million. Ten years later, instrumental music in the School District of Philadelphia has a budget of $50,000 total. 

As a result, many instruments have gone unrepaired, and students have stopped playing music. 

Robert Blackson, the Director of Temple Contemporary at the Tyler School of Art explained to FOX 29, “We walked into this beautiful old gymnasium that was just stuffed with broken pianos. I started reaching out to the district and said, ‘How many broken instruments are there?’ And that’s when we saw the list grow to over a 1,000 broken instruments.” 

Those instruments, however, were given new life with a new symphony. A collection of 400 students, teachers, and professional musicians, played the broken instruments and performed “Symphony for a Broken Orchestra.” 

The piece was composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, and is part of the project by the same name. The debut performance in Philadelphia featured cellos in multiple pieces, trumpets held together with tape, and violins with missing strings. 

“The youngest performer was a 9-year-old cellist; the oldest, an 82-year-old oboist. It looked like the most diverse orchestra in America, ” reported The New York Times’ Joshua Barone in his review. “As the 40-minute symphony progressed, the instruments roared to life with powerful force…the score was playful, even joyous.”

In addition to the performance, Blackson photographed each instrument and uploaded it to their site, where anyone can sponsor an instrument to be repaired. So far, $280,000 has been raised, and more than 500 instruments are being repaired thanks to online donations. 

The ultimate goal is to raise $1 million to make up for the district’s budget cuts. 

“The point was not to end with a beautiful piece of music, but to raise the money to repair the instruments and get them back into the hands of the children who need them,” Lang told The Guardian. “What was apparent from beginning is that it’s as much a social and community project as it is a musical project. These instruments represent something larger than themselves.”

Watch the video to see how the community resurrected the instruments.