This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
News of a grant from Grammy-nominated classical pianist Lang Lang’s International Music Foundation is music to the ears of Kimberly Yocum, general music teacher at Francis Scott Key Elementary in South Philadelphia. The money is critical to Francis Scott Key, which was on the brink of shutting down its music department.
"We have already received the keyboards," said Yocum. "And the grant money will go towards my salary to keep the department alive, allowing me to keep my job."
Grants were awarded to three schools in Philadelphia this year: Francis Scott Key Elementary, Thomas Holme Elementary, and Luis Muñoz Marín Elementary. They each received a $130,000 grant that includes a state-of-the-art Roland piano lab, workbooks, materials, and a check for $30,000. A check in the same amount will be received annually for the next three years, and that money is specifically to be used to further music education.
The grant awards were celebrated at Thomas Holme Elementary, which welcomed Lang with a short concert featuring two alumni, Maxim Lando and Avery Lin Gagliano.
Lang left China, his home country, as a young teenager to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and he holds the city in high regard, referring to it as his second home. His experiences led him to understand the importance of music education and inspired the grant program, according to the pianist’s website.
Yocum says that giving students hands-on experience when learning the keyboard is important.
The plan at Key Elementary is to start with teaching the 2nd- and 3rd-grade students, then continue their music education as they get older. Each year’s incoming 2nd graders then will be introduced to the piano, completely changing how music is taught at the school.
"It’s hands-on experience on a good instrument," said Yocum. "This will help the students learn to play, as well as read and write music."
Holme, Key, and Marín Elementaries join last year’s grant winners – Fox Chase, Southwark, and Steel Elementaries. This brings the total amount donated by Lang’s foundation to $780,000.