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Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma inspires students at Roxbury's Orchard Gardens School

Posted by Patrick Rosso  December 6, 2012 02:29 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

In Video: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing along with students from Orchard Gardens.

Students at the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School were able to see first-hand Thursday morning where music and the arts can take you, as long as you work hard and persevere.

Famed cellist and Cambridge native Yo-Yo Ma and New York City Ballet star and Newton native Damian Woetzel, along with members of the Silk Road Ensemble, paid a visit to the school to perform for the students, give them a few tips on their own artistic adventures, and share their stories.

“The message is given in so many different ways, but you need to participate, respond, connect, and be constantly curious,” Ma told the Globe after leading a group of Orchard Garden students in a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

The musicians and performers were visiting the school as part of a kick-off for President Obama’s Turnaround Arts initiative, which works with eight underperforming schools across the country to increase arts education in every aspect of a childs’ learning experience.

“The arts should be in the basic toolkit in addressing the problems schools like this face,” said Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which oversees the program. “They need to be able to read and do math, but they also need to love learning and be able to think on their own.”

The program will work over the next two-years to bring more art into the school, with Ma and Woetzel as the school’s resident artists.

“We want to shine a light on what they are already doing at the school and their use of art as part of the education,” said Woetzel after leading students in a dance. “As a child, it was important for me to see examples, and I think it’s valuable to be able to share those experiences.”

The two artists will meet with students, talk with teachers, and lend their artistic skills to the development of the school’s estimated 800 students.

In 2010 Orchard Gardens was designated a “Turnaround” school because of underperformance and low test scores. Now with a new principal and techniques, the school has been working to improve test numbers and engage its students.

“This program really opens up a world of possibilities for the students,” said Andrew Bott, principal of the school. “They are able to meet the professionals who followed their passion and did a lot hard work to get there; it sends a really powerful message.”

Bott added that making a school better isn’t just about standardized test scores.

“This isn’t just about turning a school around. We want to make it a school we’d select for our own children,” Bott said. “We want the students to understand everything they do matters and this is a very real demonstration of that. “

Ma and Woetzel, along with the Silk Road Ensemble performed for over 200 of the school’s students in its auditorium Thursday morning. Showing off their instruments, explaining where they come from, and how they are played, the artists introduced the students to many types of sounds and skills they might have never heard before.

In addition to the performance the musicians and dancers fanned out across the school to visit classrooms and meet students, hoping to inspire a few along the way.

“The performance was really awesome,” said sixth-grade student Jnaya Dubost. “I want to be a choreographer when I grow up, and I learned today that you can take risks and follow your dreams.”


(Patrick D. Rosso/

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing with students from Orchard Gardens.

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