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Violinist's after-school program brings hope to kids, community

David France uses the money he makes playing the violin to fund Revolution of Hope, an after-school orchestra he started a few months ago in the disenfranchised community of Roxbury. NBC's Chelsea Clinton reports.

By Craig Stanley, NBC News

Some mornings, beneath the streets of Boston, David France plays his violin for the passers-by who fill the subway corridor. Some stop to listen, while others acknowledge him by dropping money into the empty violin case that lies at his feet.

France uses this money to fund Revolution of Hope, an after-school orchestra he started a few months ago in the disenfranchised community of Roxbury.

Hear more about David and how his passion for classical music, combined with his vision for a community orchestra, is changing the lives of Roxbury's youth who may not have these opportunities otherwise

He sought to start the program after completing the New England Conservatory's Sistema Fellows Program, which sent him to Venezuela. There, he studied the El Sistema model, a community music education program that brings instruments and instruction to underprivileged kids, often with transformational results.

After completing the fellowship, participants are charged with expanding music education in a similar format, across the world. France chose the inner-city community of Roxbury.

"I think so many times when we think of an inner city, we don't allow ourselves to imagine their worlds outside of what's been stereotyped," France said. "I would say in the inner city, to be a classical music lover is definitely to be rebellious."

Armed with a clear goal, France took Roxbury by storm, visiting school after school, attempting to convince their leaders to allow him to start a program - without compensation - to help their students. He eventually met Jose Duarte, principal of Dearborn Middle School, who gave him the opportunity to advance his mission.


"He just came day after day, and he told me he had this vision of getting kids to play the violin," Duarte said. "His persistence and his resiliency, and having a vision of how he can help us was outstanding and dynamic."

Duarte decided to host the program at his school, and opened it up to the entire local community. He saw this as a unique opportunity to address a special need.

"Most kids in America in the suburban communities get to play music. They get to learn an instrument," Duarte said. "But why is it that kids in urban settings don't? It's not because they're incapable of playing or they don't... don't have that talent. It's that they've never been exposed to it, they've never had the opportunity."

After securing a venue, France gained further support, acquiring 22 donated instruments for the children. With the help of an assistant, instructors and a small army of willing participants, Roxbury Orchestra was born.

Today, five days a week, 12 dedicated kids convene at the middle school for instruction and socializing. They come for music, but they also come for each other, and especially for France, who has proven to be a dedicated source of support and direction for the group.

"They come and they realize I'm on their side. Even if I give them a hard time. Even if it's grueling, because they can see they're making an improvement," France said. "Every day they come, I try to produce a daily miracle to show them they can do something a little better - and understand that I'm going to show up the next day, and this program will be there for them."

For Nedgie, a student participant who's immigrated from Haiti, this program has reconnected her with a passion she thought would be out of her reach forever.

"I was part of an orchestra in Haiti. Here, I didn't have any connections, I didn't know where to go or how to get involved in a program like this," she said. "It brings me back home. The feeling I have now, playing it, it just motivates me to keep playing and get better every day that I practice."

Some students noticed improvement in other aspects as well.

"[Playing the violin] has brought me out of my shell. I'm usually the shy one," Amaya, another student, admits. "I never thought that I'd be playing an instrument."

"I would love for her to do this, to play and keep it forever," Amaya's father added. The way I see it, music goes with academics and she's improved so much. I see a difference, especially in her patience with math."

Beyond academic and artistic growth, the program provides a unique social development, as it helps build a community.

"They have a place to be to center and be among people who have common bonds, people who are diverse, and people who will not laugh at their talents," Betty Neal Crutcher, a board member for the newly formed orchestra, said. "These are very smart young people, and they would be smart anywhere. Music brings them together."

France hopes to grow the program, and to one day have it all over the city of Boston - at least, for starters.

"I don't see my program as just kind of the inner-city orchestra down the street. I see it as a world class youth orchestra in its beginning stage."

As community support increases -- as does the musical proficiency of his students -- it seems to be an admirable - and plausible - goal.

"We are fortunate that we live in a community that has many people who are very interested in supporting schools and supporting kids," Duarte said. "[They] understand that unless and until we support our children, we're not making a better future for ourselves."