Over the years, generations of students in the Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County school system have enjoyed the Mary Starling In-School Educational Concerts. The 2009-2010 season was a landmark year that celebrated the 50th anniversary of these concerts presented by the Winston-Salem Symphony. Assistant Conductor Matthew Troy created a project, titled Many People, One World, that simultaneously embraced the spirit of education and reached out to local and international communities and celebrated this milestone in a meaningful way. Through a collaboration with the African Library Project, an international non-profit, Troy was able to cultivate a sense of the interconnectedness of music and stories as well as the literacy challenges present in Winston-Salem and around the world.
The mission of the African Library Project (ALP) is to increase literacy in Africa by creating and improving small libraries. The ALP makes it easy for US children to recycle their gently-used books in order to share the gift of reading with children in Africa. The donated books are collected in the US through book drives organized by volunteer schools and non-profit organizations, such as the symphony. The books are then shipped directly to the communities who request them. In Africa, ALP partners range from Peace Corps volunteers to school administrators. They receive the books and organize them into free lending libraries to serve the community.
The premise of the symphony’s project was simple. The full orchestra concerts of the Mary Starling series, in which fifth graders are brought to hear the full orchestra, had a storytelling-in-music theme. These concerts featured works with a corresponding backstory, such as A Night on Bald Mountain and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The concert closed with the exciting Sabar: African Drumming Concerto for Orchestra by James DeMarrs, which incorporated the African theme with the orchestra’s performance. A short story competition encouraged students to foster their creativity and engage with the music being performed. Specifically, three local fifth-graders were chosen as the winners of this competition and received new violins, a year’s worth of free private lessons, and free tuition to join the symphony’s Premiere Strings Orchestra. And through an enormous book drive held at all 43 elementary schools, students worked with media coordinators and volunteers to collect books to send to partner schools in Botswana, Africa, who have very limited access to books and other tools for improving literacy.
With the help of students, media coordinators, teachers, and other volunteers, the Winston-Salem Symphony and local schools were able to collect 52,000 books to start 50 new libraries in Botswana. Troy was invited to present a lecture on the project at the League of American Orchestras conference in June, 2010 in Atlanta. The Winston-Salem Symphony is immensely grateful to members of the community who served as volunteers and contributed financially to this project. Special thanks are due to Dr. Deborah Reaves and HanesBrands, Inc. for providing space to store the books as well as volunteers and materials for packaging the books. Ultimately, the books were transported to a ship in New Orleans bound for Botswana, and they arrived and were distributed in May 2010. Recently, Matthew Troy and the Winston-Salem Symphony were awarded the African Library Project’s 2010 Compassion In Action Award in San Francisco in recognition of the incredible impact of this program here at home and abroad.