TRAVERSE CITY — Dan Trahey’s first foray into instrumental music wasn’t anything spectacular, but it led to a career in music that never would have been possible without the opportunity.
The Traverse City native attributes his success in the music world to his upbringing, to a community that placed value on music education. And it’s a success that landed him at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and recently on a stage next to First Lady Michelle Obama.
But all that success began with a tuba donated to him by a local business owner and a dedicated sixth-grade music teacher at Willow Hill Elementary, he said.
“I won my first professional audition with that tuba,” he said. “I just got lucky. I wanted to play saxophone and that wasn’t a financial reality for me.”
Trahey also got lucky when he met his middle school band teacher, Lynn Hansen, who took him to Interlochen Arts Camp where she was an instructor each summer. That experience showed the young musician that there was more to music than just an elective class.
“A lot of people try to get out of where they’re from,” he said. “We just thought that we have to give back to what we got. I learned to work hard through music and people believed in me. I wasn’t the most talented.”
Trahey recently accepted an award from Obama that was bestowed upon the orchestra’s OrchKids program, an after-school music education program founded by the symphony that takes the place of music programs that were cut from the city’s public schools during budget shortfalls. The award was one of a dozen National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards given out each year.
Trahey works as director of artistic program development for OrchKids, but before that founded a program in Traverse City called the Archipelago Project. That program provides summer music education to school students and tours the world playing a variety of music to expose students and audiences to a variety of genres at once.
The program offers music to children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn an instrument or to read music. It offers them something that Trahey once took for granted because the place where he grew up had a well-established music culture.
”The main mission that I have is to create democratic access to music performance and music education,” he said. “In Baltimore, we’re looking to put a clarinet in a child’s hand before they put a gun in their hand. You can’t carry both at the same time.”
After traveling the world, starting his own successful non-profit music program in Traverse City and returning to Baltimore, Trahey helped grow the OrchKids program from just a few students to hundreds.
It prevents many of the students from going down the wrong path, he said.
”I joined a gang when i joined the band in Traverse City,” said the 1996 graduate of Traverse City West Senior High School. “It was a gang that wasn’t doing drugs and wasn’t boozing on Friday nights.”
Today OrchKids boasts 750 students, up from 25 in 2008, and hopes to grow significantly during the next decade.
”We started with 25 kids,” he said. “We hope to in 10 years have more than 10,000 kids involved.”
OrchKids will get a $10,000 grant and support from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as part of the award.