Jayden Moore, 15, took up the viola through chance. He’d picked the violin on the form passed out at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra OrchKids program, but there were no violins available among the many brass and wind and string selections. “I didn’t want to wait another day,” he recalls. “I wanted to play now. And I’ve been with the viola ever since.”
Over the past six years, Moore has grown up with the viola — and the viola has grown alongside him, thanks to the generosity of donors who support eager and promising students by providing the most essential part of their musical education: their instrument.
Most recently, Moore was gifted two violas — one as a recipient of Peabody’s Baltimore-Washington Musical Pathways Scholarship, underwritten by the Mellon Foundation, and one from BSO Music Director and Peabody faculty artist Marin Alsop.
“Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had an instrument to play and wouldn’t have gotten as far as I am,” says Moore, a student of Peabody Preparatory instructor Jaclyn Dorr.
Moore, a participant in Peabody’s Tuned-In program, never looked back once he started the viola. “I liked the sound that it has. The C-string specifically because it’s deep. And it’s big, too — for some reason I like that the viola is big. Something about the way it sounds just spoke to me.”
Says his mother, Carol Moore, “I’ll be very honest with you. Without the donations, he would not be playing these instruments at all. They are very outside of our price range. It was something we couldn’t have afforded in the first place.”
Music programs can usually handle beginner instruments, says Mateen Milan (BM ’19, Bassoon), administrator for Tuned-In and the Baltimore Washington Musical Pathways (BWMP) programs at Peabody. The difficulty comes when it’s time to upgrade. There’s a tremendous sound difference between a handcrafted instrument and one pieced together on a conveyor belt, but that higher-quality instrument can hang impossibly out of reach.
The difference in instrument quality can affect who wins at competitions and frustrate advancing students. It’s not impossible to coax good sound out of a low-quality instrument, but those who don’t have to struggle with it have the advantage.
Meshia Ellis’ children are both participants in Tuned-In. She knew that her daughter, Aidyn Ellis-Otovo, 11, a student of Peabody Preparatory’s Renate Falkner, was unhappy with the quality of her instrument, a $60 violin bought off of Craigslist — but that issue would have to wait. First, they needed to get an instrument for her sister, 10-year-old Addison Ellis-Otovo, who had started lessons on a violin with viola strings.
She was discussing items she’d listed for sale on Craigslist with a possible buyer when her goal of purchasing her daughter a viola came up. Then the buyer asked a question: Had she heard of Concerts for Causes?
She had not. And she wasn’t expecting much when she reached out to the organization. “I said, ‘I heard you connect kids with instruments,’ and he said ‘Yes.’ And I didn’t really think anything was going to happen, and he said, ‘I’m on a mission to get you what you need.’”
Shortly afterward, Concerts for Causes offered to pay for a viola that Ellis had found at a shop in Vermont. And there was more news. They had a violin for Aidyn as well. Concerts for Causes’ founder Brett Murray and the family arranged to meet at Peabody, where they surprised Aidyn with the instrument.
Her daughters rhapsodize about the sound of their new instruments. “It was deep, it had a lot of resonance, and it sounded really good,” says Addison, who also studies with Falkner. “I loved it.”
Aidyn adds, “I felt like a soloist.”
Ellis is still marveling over the kindness of the donors who eliminated the worry of her daughters struggling to keep up on low-level instruments. “There was no audition necessary, he didn’t need to know how the girls played, he just wanted them to have what they needed,” she says. “I am eternally grateful.”