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$2.5m Mellon Foundation grant launches Boston classical music initiative

The New England Conservatory on Huntington Avenue in Boston.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2017

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $2.5 million grant to New England Conservatory, in consortium with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras, the Community Music Center of Boston, and the string education program Project STEP, to launch the new Boston Bridge to Equity and Achievement in Music initiative.

The initiative is designed to fund the musical education of middle- and high-school-age classical musicians from historically underrepresented communities, creating individually tailored programs of study with the participating organizations to set them up for professional success.

Rebecca Bogers, the dean and director of the NEC Preparatory School, serves on the BEAM initiative’s steering committee along with leadership from the other organizations. She said that a new program manager would be hired for the consortium. And working together, she explained, the consortium could have a larger impact and serve more students than each organization could individually.


“The grant really allows us to make sure everything stays student-focused, because each student’s path to success is slightly different. So through these pathways, they’re able to select which parts of the programs are going to best serve them. The collective approach is really important.”

Rebecca Bogers, dean and director of NEC Preparatory School.Andrew Hurlbut

Starting in the fall of 2019, the initiative will offer 60-75 students each year private lessons, orchestral experience, chamber music coaching, music theory lessons, support for summer program participation, and individual long-term mentorship. The Mellon Foundation’s grant will support the initiative’s first 45 months, including a nine-month planning period and three years of programming.

Susan Feder, a program officer in the arts and cultural heritage program at Mellon, said that a primary goal of the BEAM initiative is ultimately to help increase diversity in classical orchestras. “We have been developing what we hope will be systemic changes to an intractable problem of there being 4 percent representation of black and Latinx musicians in orchestras around the country,” she said, citing the League of American Orchestras’ “Forty Years of Fellowships” study. “We are looking for urban centers that have enough organizations and enough students of talent. Because it’s not an issue of talent, it’s an issue of access.”


Access is on Bogers’s mind too. “One of the things we’ve worked a lot on during my time as director is to think about access to the local community,” said Bogers, remarking that the majority of NEC Prep’s more than 1,700 students come from the suburbs, and that the BEAM initiative will be able to support students closer to home who may already be taking advantage of outreach programs. “This will help us identify students from those programs who’ll be able to pursue [music] at a higher level, and to offer them the support of that.”

Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.