Symphony for a broken orchestra, breathes life into hundreds of ‘broken’ school instruments


“Symphony for a broken orchestra” is a piece composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang written as part of a project to repair over thousand damaged instruments that were rendered unusable because of severe budget cuts to Philadelphia’s public school music programs.

For students, the lack of funding meant they often had to arrange for basic upkeep of instruments, such as reeds and rosin. Eleanor Martinez, a 16-year-old student at South Philadelphia High School, now owns her own clarinet but for a long time needed to share — which grossed her out, she said, given the amount of saliva involved with playing woodwinds.

This is where Symphony for a Broken Orchestra has been like a godsend.

The musicians for Mr. Lang’s symphony included students in grade school, as well as amateurs and professionals — even members of the storied Philadelphia Orchestra, and they played with broken instruments. Performers tapped on violin bodies and clicked the valve keys of horns. At one point, a cellist made noise by turning a stringless peg.

“This was a case where there was something art could do to really solve a problem. It just shouldn’t have been a problem to begin with,” said David Lang after the performance.

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