Philly kids take a honky-tonk roadtrip to D.C. for Obama musician program

WASHINGTON - So the Philadelphia music students understood they probably would not meet President Obama at a songwriting workshop at the White House yesterday.

But they were a tad disappointed that first lady Michelle Obama wasn't there, either.

After all, this was a first-lady event: The White House Music Series, to which Mrs. Obama invites students from around the country to meet professional musicians and discuss their work.

Yesterday's theme was country music. And students got to talk with Grammy-winning country stars Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley.

It was a dignified and beautiful occasion, but our kids had been counting on meeting Michelle.

The 15 Philadelphia students - who attended with three school district chaperones - tried to hide their disappointment as the program ended.

There had been so much anticipation when they'd boarded the bus outside Benjamin Franklin High School about 8:30 a.m.

Almost immediately, the giggling began.

"My mom told me I should have brought my resume to give to Michelle," said Jessica Cooper, 17, a senior at Girls High in the fall.

"Your resume?" Shanice Mitchell, 16, asked in disbelief.

"Don't you need to go to college first? What do you think you can do? Rub her feet?" teased Mitchell, a Girls High junior.

Though the White House seemed an enviable destination, the best stories were the students themselves.

Yang Bao, 17, and a senior at the Girard Academic Music Program, brightened when asked about going to Washington.

He said President Obama inspires him.

"He proved that nothing is impossible," said Bao, a Chinese immigrant.

He and his mother moved from Lanzhou, China, to New York when Bao was 9 so he could study at the Juilliard School.

Five months later, Bao's father, who had stayed behind in China, was killed in an accident.

At age 12, Bao persuaded his mother to move to Philadelphia. He already knew he wanted to study at the Curtis Institute. He takes private lessons with a Curtis piano professor.

"My dream is to play for the Obamas at the White House some day," said Bao, a quiet young man who wears two jade stones around his neck; one a gift from his father, the other from a favorite uncle.

And there were other stories: Veronique Myers, 16, a junior at Central High who talked about her love of percussion, and Andrew Lawson, a GAMP musician who plays saxophone and flute, but also sings opera.

At the White House, after listening to Krauss and Paisley each sing a song or two, some of the 150 students in the State Dining Room asked them if they still got nervous before a performance.

Paisley said he didn't. But Krauss said she's more nervous now than when she started.

When younger, the winner of 26 Grammys said, she wasn't nervous because "I had nothing to prove." But she said she was even nervous yesterday.

"When I learned I had to talk to aspiring musicians, I started thinking you all would be saying, 'Oh my God, [her violin is] out of tune!' "

Most of the Philadelphia students who attended the workshop are part of a summer WorkReady program and their summer job is studying music.

Philadelphia was chosen for the honor by the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which has been funding music programs in Philadelphia, and other cities for the last 10 years.

As the program ended, students took pictures in the grand foyer at the north portico and Bao quietly walked over to Jay Orr, vice president of museum programs for the Country Music Hall of Fame, who had moderated the program.

Bao wanted to know how he could perform at the White House.

But Orr explained he didn't work for the White House and wasn't able to bring him there.

Still Bao was undeterred.

"The piano has taken me to many places so far," he said. "Hopefully it will bring me back here to play someday." *