By Adam Wright (Sub-Principal Trumpet and Chairman)
As members of the RPO we are extremely fortunate to get to travel all around the world, visiting places you might choose to go to as a tourist, as well as destinations that are a little more off the beaten track. Even on these wonderful tours, however, it is rare to see and experience anything as inspirational as we did on our recent RPO brass quintet trip to the USA.
We spent seven days at the start of November in America, with the wonderful American Friends of the RPO. As well as performing concerts we brought the RPO’s unique brand of community outreach and education work to New York, one of the key objectives of our American Friendsorganisation. The trip started with three days of workshops at the amazing Children’s Museum of Manhattan (pictured above), generously supported by Laurie Tisch. Over the course of the three days we worked with over 150 children and their families as well as 40 young people with special educational needs. In the evenings we performed brass quintet concerts for the American Friends in two incredible venues: 432 Park Avenue (the tallest residential building in the world) and the illustrious Princeton Club, in association with the Royal Oak Foundation. These were fantastic events,hosted by AFRPO President Barry Bloom, which helped to strengthen our relationship with existing American Friends and enabled us to recruit a few more. In our time off we enjoyed all that Manhattan has to offer. But none of us were prepared for what we were introduced to on the penultimate day of our trip when we visited the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The chocolate magnate Milton Hershey once said “what use is money unless you use it for the benefit of the community and of humanity in general”, and wow did he live by these words! The clearest example of this is the Milton Hershey School, which he set up in 1909, and where we had the honour of performing to 600 children from their Middle School.
Unable to have children of their own the Hersheys decided to use their wealth to create a home and school for orphaned boys. They provided a stable home as well as a combination of agricultural, vocational and academic learning. This combination continues today, with every pupil graduating in a trade or skill, such as computer science or food tech, alongside the usual academic qualifications. Three years after his wife’s untimely death in 1915, Hershey gave his entire personal fortune to the school, and continued to be involved with both the school and its pupils until his death in 1945.
Nowadays the school takes boys and girls from all over the country who have seriously disadvantaged backgrounds. Many have parents who are incarcerated or who are unable or unwilling to look after them. Hearing the backgrounds of just a few of the pupils was horrifying. The school has over 2000 children, providing them with year round homes with house parents, all their food and clothing, and a state of the art education at a cost over $110,000 per pupil per year — all paid for by the money left by Milton Hershey.
I have to say that having heard about the children’s backgrounds I was a little apprehensive about what we would find, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: the school and its facilities, its pupils and staff were awe-inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a happier school atmosphere with such well-behaved and polite children beaming from ear to ear with joy. It was a truly unbelievable experience that will stay with me for a very long time. Despite the turbulence of current political situation across the globe, I came home with my faith in humanity (and my supply of Hershey’s chocolate) fully replenished. The Hershey School concert and the evening concert at The Hershey Hotel, were made possible by generous support from AFRPO Treasurer Jim Mead and his wife Elaine.