This fall, the Peabody Preparatory’s Tuned-In program unveiled the Misbin New Directions Ensemble, its first student ensemble to focus on string instruments. The group will fill a vital role, says Daniel Trahey, the founder of Tuned-In, a program that provides a free Peabody Preparatory education to about 100 students from Baltimore City and surrounding counties each year.
“Our jazz band traditions and marching band traditions have stayed relatively strong in Baltimore City, but something happened to our storied string programs where youth lost access to string playing,” adds Trahey, who started Tuned-In in 2007 with eight students and a vision to use music as a vehicle to effect social change. “This ensemble is going to be an example of what happens when you put even more work and support into string players in Baltimore City.”
The Misbin New Directions Ensemble was made possible by Robert Misbin, who graduated from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1971. A longtime supporter of the Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project (ChiMOP), Misbin asked the project’s leaders how he could expand his support, and he learned that ChiMOP is modeled after the Tuned-In program. Because Misbin already had a connection to Johns Hopkins, he called Trahey earlier this year and decided to support the new string ensemble after one conversation.
“The stars were all in alignment,” says Misbin, a long-time devotee of opera who recently wrote his first libretto, Briscula the Magician, which was performed by the Bel Cantanti Opera at the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland, last year.
Through the Misbin New Directions Ensemble, 30 young string musicians who are in late elementary and middle school participate in weekly rehearsals and sectionals to work on music performance skills, improvisational skills, and public speaking. The students will also be involved in a 10-day summer immersion program that will be organized around the ensemble’s scheduled performances at Artscape, Baltimore’s large arts and culture festival.
Perhaps most importantly, though, will be the ensemble’s annual tour in which students will perform in Baltimore City Public Schools. The goal for these performances is to encourage other students to play string instruments, thereby beginning to rebuild a foundation of string music in Baltimore City.
“This ensemble is designed to inspire other students,” Trahey says. “We want to show them that string music is hip, and that we should be doing this in Baltimore.”
Misbin — who worked at the University of Florida School of Medicine for 20 years and the Food & Drug Administration for 15 years — says that he is drawn to this type of program because of the power that music has to change the lives of participating students.
“It doesn’t even matter if their plan is to go into a career in music. That’s not necessary,” says Misbin, who wrote Insulin History from an FDA Insider, which was published in 2020. “What’s necessary is that students enjoy it and it provides them discipline and a sense of accomplishment. And to be able to affect the lives of young people and enable them to develop a talent — what more important thing can you do?”