symphony for a broken orchestra

During the fall of 2016, Temple Contemporary--  under the guidance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang and Found Sound Nation-- meticulously collected, catalogued and recorded over seven hundred broken instruments from the Philadelphia School System. These recorded sounds became the raw-inspiration for Lang’s new orchestral work Symphony For A Broken Orchestra.


The project began as a two-year initiative to repair over a thousand broken instruments in the Philadelphia School System, and to provide the public with an effective way to support arts-education in public schools. This project has been developed by Temple Contemporary in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Boyer College of Music & Dance, the Curtis Institute, and numerous professional/amateur musicians throughout the city.


Through the development of their reForm project, Temple Contemporary had learned of the immense number of damaged musical instruments owned by the Philadelphia School System. In just eight years, the music education budget had plummeted from over a million to just $50,000.  As a result of these cuts, there were over fifteen-hundred instruments owned by the district that could not be played and no available budget to fix them.


This December, hundreds of musicians, including players from The Philadelphia Orchestra, will perform Lang’s composition, which was written specifically for the sounds these instruments can only make in their broken state.  Following the performance, the instruments will be repaired and returned to the school district for the fall of 2018.


To further support and develop this project, Found Sound Nation proposes to record and commercially distribute this unique composition through our newly formed non-profit label, Found Sound Records, along with a compilation of additional avant-garde music composed from the broken instrument sample-bank by leading electronic music producers. All proceeds will benefit a legacy fund to provide for the upkeep of these instruments in perpetuity.  Additionally, the releases will offer a platform for generating dialogue and media attention around the future of music education in Philadelphia and other cities— such as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee— whose public schools are struggling to offer sustainable instrumental music programs to a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children in their communities.  


While both Temple Contemporary and Found Sound Nation have had extensive experience in developing projects with broad community involvement, we have not previously sought to address a system-wide failure across an entire public sector.  Broken Orchestra, however, is a creative sustainable and replicable model for repairing and returning broken instruments to any school district, and Found Sound Nation, Temple Contemporary and our partners, seek to connect this initiative with music-program directors all across the country who are experiencing drastic budget cuts.


We affirm the role of the arts in contributing to the development of a healthy society, but see a need for new models that offer access within this reduced economic context. While many of the old approaches to music education and performance require what is, at present, an unrealistic level of resourcing, this project offers a direct and effective way to increase access to music education at the public school level.  We see Broken Orchestra as a clear pronouncement that a new approach is possible—by directly creating excellence, providing resources, inspiring individuals, and ultimately creating an intimate, emotional and compelling connection between a diverse group of performers and a diverse audience.