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Play on Philly
Empowering Students through Music

Play On, Philly! (POP) founder Stanford Thompson transplanted to Philadelphia from Atlanta to attend the Curtis Institute of Music and became aware of the disparity in opportunities for many lower income schools. Thanks to help from co-founder Carole Haas Gravagno, in 2011 the first program was established at St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia. It began with 110 youth, ages six to thirteen, with the goal of making a significant and sustaining impact on their lives.


POP is an innovative educational and social initiative that provides opportunities for personal development to children through the study of music. Inspired by the music education program of Venezuela called El Sistema that provides lessons to disadvantaged youth, POP seeks to enrich the lives of Philadelphia youth by providing daily musical instruction in communities that have little to no access to music education. Through rigorous after-school musical training, POP empowers its students with not just the invaluable gift of music but also discipline, dedication and self-confidence.


POP student Elexys’ comment beautifully illustrates the impact of the program on participants:

“I’m a new person because POP entered into my life.  Now I have the confidence to know I can do anything.”


The dedication of POP’s students and staff has attracted the attention of over forty incredible musicians who have served as Guest Artists in their program. From Sir Simon Rattle and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting POP ensembles in the Kimmel Center, to attending master classes with Jon Batiste of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Bobby McFerrin, students are consistently given the chance to work with musicians at the top of their field. These experiences are not about merely perfecting technique, but also communicating that they are equally capable of achieving their goals.


In 2014, the Connelly Foundation awarded a $200,000 grant towards continuing music education programming at St. Francis de Sales School as well as continued expansion and evaluation of the program.