An 'ecosystem' of music resources

Professional musician Joseph Conyers and academic Martin Ihrig share a passion for music.

Conyers is the assistant principal bass at the Philadelphia Orchestra and the newly named music director of the All-City Orchestra.

Ihrig is a music-lover, practice associate professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), and adjunct associate professor at the Wharton School.

The two have connected through Project 440, an initiative co-founded by Conyers in 2006 that fosters a love of music and community engagement in its young participants.

In Project 440, classical music is a community-building tool. The nonprofit provides industry-specific mentoring and training programs for young musicians.

Recently, Project 440 was tasked with managing the All-City Orchestra, a competitive music ensemble open to all students in Philadelphia.

To provide these services is no simple task—especially since financial resources are limited. The only way to achieve the goal as big as music education, says Ihrig, is if organizations coordinate efforts.

“It’s very important in the future to think about ecosystems of partners,” Ihrig says. “We have the [school] district, we have the Orchestra, we have the Curtis Institute, we have Settlement Music School—many different partners—and in challenging times, where money is very scarce, how can we all come together to help students?”

To that end, Ihrig is working to bring the school district, the Philadelphia Orchestra, GSE, and Project 440 together around the goal of music education.

Ihrig, who is also the academic director of GSE’s master’s degree in education entrepreneurship, studies entrepreneurship and innovation, including how organizations can map out assets to achieve success.

“I really sit in the intersection of business with my appointment at Wharton, and education with my appointment at GSE,” says Ihrig, who is “looking at what are the needs of all the different constituents, the different stakeholders, and what kinds of things they can leverage, and bring to the table to improve music education.”

To make an initiative like this work, Ihrig says the first step is simple: Get everyone in the same room.

“You have to find lots of passionate people, and it might look like this is a challenge, but I’ve met so many people who have those passions for education and the kids that it’s actually not that difficult once they have a plan [for] people to come together,” Ihrig says.

Conyers, Project 440’s executive director, says Ihrig’s expertise is helpful as they seek to expand the services offered by the small nonprofit.

“I feel the power of music is undeniable and can actually transform peoples’ lives,” Conyers says. “Project 440 is using music as a tool of healing.”

For Conyers, this transformation happens not just when students are performing, but when they’re learning life skills. Project 440 fosters college and career preparedness in students, getting them to think about things such as the college that may be right for them and career paths of musicians. They also learn how to create a resume and set up a website. And finally, students go into their communities, instruments in hand, to share their love of music with other young people.

“It’s all about starting conversations and dialogue and really showing that the art belongs to the community,” Conyers says, “and we as artists are challenged with making sure the world knows what we do.”

Conyers sees music education as critical to the development of young people.

“What we do allows kids to imagine at the highest level,” Conyers says. “Art is there whenever the world is chaotic. [We want] to make them so excited that they want to share it with others.”

Project 440