Osita Atikpoh says he will always remember the day he learned he’d been accepted into the Peabody Conservatory for fall 2014. “It was one of the best feelings in the world, reading the acceptance letter,” he says.
But that day is memorable for a lot of other people, too, because Atikpoh, a tuba player, is the very first student from Peabody Preparatory’s Tuned-In scholarship program to earn acceptance in the Conservatory, fulfilling one of the program’s highest goals and making its vision a reality.
“That he got into Peabody really shows that we can take students with little or no experience, who wouldn’t otherwise have this education, and give them a leg up so they’re really achieving at the same level as everyone else,” says Preparatory Interim Dean Gavin Farrell. “We don’t expect all kids in Tuned-In to go on to study music, but obviously the grand slam home run is when they do.”
Tuned-In, which began in 2007, offers full Preparatory scholarships to musically talented Baltimore youth. In addition to weekly private lessons, participants work with accompanists and attend concerts and other cultural events.
The program is not just about the music but also the social change for which the music can serve as a vehicle. The idea is that kids can translate the skills they develop—punctuality, consistency, being prepared, and asking for help— into a lifelong work ethic that will open doors to both college and career.
“Just experiencing what it means to be reliable and responsible has affected how I act everywhere and who I am as a person,” says Atikpoh, 17. What separates Tuned-In from other programs, he adds, is that while teaching music, it also prepares students for life as a musician, exposing them to the college application process and to potential career opportunities.
Meanwhile, Peabody is gaining just as much from the Tuned-In students as it gives them, says coordinator of Tuned-In Dan Trahey, who is also Atikpoh’s tuba teacher. The students’ presence is helping Peabody look and feel more like Baltimore while showing that Baltimore’s youth can thrive in its sophisticated environment, he says. Another plus: Many students develop an interest in being good “musical citizens.”
“I believe we’re creating the type of student who is going to come back and run programs like Tuned-In much better than I could,” Trahey says.
Atikpoh’s mother, Sochima Atikpoh, set everything in motion back when Osi was in fifth grade and she approached Trahey about getting him into a music program. She credits Trahey and the entire Preparatory staff with helping her son find both his musical voice and his place in the world. “I’m so happy that he has such an interest and that it led him to Hopkins,” she says.
Atikpoh is looking ahead to a future in an orchestra or small ensemble, maybe teaching, and maybe something related to music business. “I feel like going to Peabody for the next four years, I will be exposed to a lot of different options for what kind of career I could have,” he says.
— Rachel Wallach