The D.C. Youth Orchestra, beset last year by declining enrollment and the prospect of eviction from its quarters at Coolidge Senior High School, is determined to hang on but is looking for a new home.
The orchestra, which has offered music classes and performance opportunities to 50,000 children since its founding in 1960, functions as a substitute music program for the D.C. public schools, and most of its 575 students are D.C. residents. It receives an annual subsidy from the school system yet has not been able to make ends meet, in part because student fees are kept low to allow as many young people as possible to participate.
Last year, the orchestra fended off the school system's demand that its $50,000 annual rent for use of classrooms and rehearsal space at the high school be raised to $93,000. Executive Director Ava Spece said the orchestra has not been able to pay rent since before she was hired last year.
Spece said last week that "there is not bad blood" between the orchestra and school system, but that the current arrangement is not workable. The orchestra's board agreed in September to begin looking for a new facility -- perhaps another school or an office building or church -- and hopes to move next fall. "We haven't identified any new place, but we are certainly keeping our eyes and ears open," said board member Robin Berrington, a retired State Department official.
The need to focus on the search for a new home, and fundraising for that, forced the orchestra to cancel plans for a concert tour next summer in Mexico, which Spece called "a wise decision but a sad decision."
The orchestra season, she said, is looking good. Students will perform a December holiday concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a Mother's Day concert there next spring and two performances at D.C. embassies, in addition to their regular schedule. The orchestra is to perform Sunday at American University. Last month, after a last-minute invitation, an eight-student chamber orchestra performed at the White House for attendees at a youth conference.
Enrollment is down from a high some years ago of more than 700, but it has held relatively steady this year, Spece said.
"We still have some hurdles to get past," she said, but "we've come a long way in the past year."
-- D'Vera Cohn