Musical Alliance’s New Tune

Kevin L. Carter, Inquirer Staff Writer

For the better part of five years, the Philadelphia Music Foundation has honored local legends on its Broad Street Walk of Fame, promoted the area recording industry, and taken calls from residents who wanted to know where to buy a good electric guitar.

It’s going to continue to do that.

But the PMF also wants to help high school students learn how to play the piano. It wants to give mid-career musicians financial help that may push them along the road to success.

And it’s going to go by a new name. The Philadelphia Music Alliance, as the PMF has been re-christened, will celebrate its new handle with a reception this evening at Independence Blue Cross headquarters.

There are several reasons for the group’s name change and “new direction,” said Teri Doke, PMA executive director. One of them is money.

“The name was misleading,” Doke said. “Foundation says to people that we have money to give, and we did not.” When the organization was founded six years ago, she said, the goal was to establish an endowment fund. In today’s economic climate, however, “establishing endowments is no longer feasible.”

The alliance has recently added seven board members, most of whom come from the corporate sector but have experience with nonprofit groups. They will help the PMA shift its focus toward noncommercial music, which has suffered a chronic money and recognition deficit.

The idea for the change came to Doke this summer after a series of meetings with nonprofit music organizations in the city.

“We were told that there was a need for a service organization in the community, similar to the Dance Alliance,” she said. “It made sense to change the name to be in step and in tune with the needs of the music community.”

Another major concern is education. Lack of funds has forced the Philadelphia School District, like many other urban districts, to radically cut its music-education budget.

As a result, a school such as South Philadelphia High, whose music program produced Marian Anderson, Mario Lanza, Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Eddie Fisher and scores of Philadelphia Orchestra members, now has just one music teacher.

PMA can’t add faculty, but by officially adopting Southern as the site of its new “Music in the Schools” program, it hopes to make a difference.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a pilot program that can be replicated throughout the public school system as funds become available,” Doke said. “We wanted to go where the need was greatest and where there was the greatest tradition.”

Local jazz flutist Leslie Burrs will hold seminars at the school about once a week and will bring in musicians to demonstrate various genres of music. Doke is also recruiting University of the Arts students to teach instrumental music at Southern.

She said the alliance hopes to set up a 40-instrument keyboard lab at Southern, which has few pianos or other keyboard instruments for students to practice on.

“We need all the help we can get,” said William Yeats, Southern’s music teacher. “We welcome what (the alliance) is doing.”

Among the PMA’s other planned projects is establishment of a group insurance plan for professional musicians; publication of a newsletter, calendar and membership guide; lobbying for the creation of a local chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, and creation of a library of books and recordings.

In order to help make these dreams a reality, the organization – which operates on about $500,000 a year, most of it from donations – has begun an aggressive fund-raising drive. Doke hopes to raise an additional $100,000 by summer.

It will be tough.

“This is probably the most difficult fund-raising climate I have experienced in 20 years in the business,” said Doke, who formerly headed the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum.

Even if the PMA doesn’t meet its fund-raising goal, Doke is optimistic about the city’s overall cultural climate under the administration of Mayor-elect Ed Rendell.

“One of the things (Rendell has) said is that he would like to see a Spoleto-like music festival here in Philadelphia,” said Doke. “I made it a note (to myself), and he will have it.”