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The Amazing story of the A-Flat Youth Orchestra

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra performs at the 2019 Kauffman Center for the performing Arts Future Stages Festival

Darryl Chamberlain left Kansas City in 1982 to work at Texas Instruments. In 1982, he noticed that all of Kansas City's high schools participated in the American Royal parade. Chamberlain loved attending the parade since he was a child. He took several pictures of the 1982 parade. In Texas, Darryl Chamberlain worked in numerous venues that focused on youth education. He served as chairman of the group of engineers who founded the Collin County B.E.S.T. Robotics competition. He organized numerous annual productions for Black History Month, and developed a multi-media presentation called the Gloryworks Experience. In addition, Chamberlain served on science fairs, PTA boards, principal and administrator selection committees, and numerous other capacities that focused on the educational arena.

   

Images from the 1982 American Royal Parade in Kansas City Missouri.

When Chamberlain returned to Kansas City in 2004 (twenty two years later), he noticed that there were no high school bands in the American Royal parade. He spoke to band directors and principals at several high schools to try to understand what had happened to the bands. He heard stories of missing equipment, lack of funding, apathy, and focus on more important issues such as dropping test scores. Chamberlain studied the graduation rates of all of the high schools. The two collegiate schools had bands and orchestras and funding, but the remaining schools struggled to implement a band program. Graduation rates varied among the non-collegiate schools. The top non-collegiate school had a graduation rate of 68% while the bottom school had a graduation rate of a dismal 42%. The schools in the middle hung around 62% in the year 2005. In 2005, Chamberlain got a first-hand look at the students of the Kansas City School district when he was hired to audit the brass students across the district for the possibility of forming a district-wide orchestra. He observed that the students needed a lot of work.

Darryl Chamberlain had founded a youth orchestra while in Texas called the Chamberlain ensemble. The Chamberlain Ensemble played in venues across the Midwest. Chamberlain decided that he would start a youth orchestra in Kansas City. This was when Chamberlain started the LLC known as A-Flat Music Academy. In the year 2005, Chamberlain began purchasing instruments by which to build an urban youth orchestra. He bought instruments on eBay, and in pawn shops, newspaper classifieds, and anywhere used instruments could be found. In 2006, he began advertising for instrumental music classes but had to put his efforts on hold as he was diagnosed to need open heart surgery. The surgery took place in the spring of 2006 where he spent the remainder of the year recovering. The year 2007 was a difficult year for Chamberlain as he struggled to regain his strength. However, he continued to purchase musical instruments. He would eventually collect enough instruments to equip two concert bands. In the fall of the year 2007, he began offering music classes again at Jamison Memorial Temple CME Church. It was at Jamison Memorial Temple CME that the first A-Flat Youth Ensemble was born.

The A-Flat Youth Ensemble performs at Metropolitan AME Church.

The students thought that A-Flat meant being less than an A. "Why can't we be called B-Sharp they asked?" Chamberlain explained B-Sharp enharmonically is a C, and so A-Flat it was. The ensemble began to grow and performed at various venues across the Kansas City area. In 2009, Chamberlain enrolled at UMKC to gain certification to teach in the public school system. The music classes had to be placed on hold in the year 2011 as Chamberlain's class load increased. In 2014 Chamberlain was granted certification to teach in the Missouri public schools by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Chamberlain continued in 2015 to attain a second undergraduate degree.

Tyrone Yarbrough is the director of music at St. James United Methodist Church. Tyrone Yarbrough was familiar with Darryl Chamberlain's work in teaching instrumental music to youth and asked him to come to St. James to continue teaching instrumental music. The two laid out an action plan and in February 2016, classes for instrumental music were being offered at St. James United Methodist Church under the management of A-Flat Music Studio Inc. At St. James UMC, Chamberlain changed the name of his company from A-Flat Music Academy to A-Flat Music Studio Inc. because it was a better reflection of his work. It wasn't long before an ensemble of kids were performing in the church. The classes were a collaboration between A-Flat Music Studio Inc. and St. James UMC. The new ensemble was given the name of St. James UMC A-Flat Youth Orchestra because unlike an ensemble, the group had all of the sections of an orchestra. The goal was to build an urban youth orchestra. The fledgling St. James UMC A-Flat Youth Orchestra made its debut on Maundy Thursday at St. James UMC in 2016.

The St. James UMC A-Flat Youth Orchestra performs at St. James UMC.

The students continued to study and in the fall of 2016, the first beginner class joined the main orchestra. That year the orchestra gave three major performances. The year 2017 was a busy year. Darryl Chamberlain told the students that if they keep getting better, someone would put them on the radio. The spring opened with the orchestra making their first radio appearance on Carl Boyd's "Stoot's for boots" radio broadcast. The students performed several songs and gave interviews. It was a wonderful experience to jam the entire ensemble of students into the radio studio. The producers were very gracious to move desks and equipment out of the way to make it all fit.The students were getting a unique education on how radio interviews were done.

          

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra performs at Carl Boyd's "Stoots for Boots" broadcast on KUAW Radio.

In June, a reporter from the Kansas City Star took interest in the young orchestra and did a story which made the front page of the newspaper. Chamberlain had bought and restored the orchestra's first tympanum drum. The Star reporter took special interest in the story of the tympanum drum and built her story around that drum. The drum was purchased on eBay for $119.00 and was quite beat up. Later, Chamberlain noticed that the same model drum was selling for $1500.00 in a local music store.

Chamberlain disassembled the drum and took it to an automobile body repair shop to sand it, prime it, and repaint it. Chamberlain looked at the paint color charts for several cars to try to find a color that was close to a tympanum's typical copper color. However, the many colors that were available for cars suggested that why does a tympanum have to be a dull copper color. A color for the drum was chosen from the 2008 Porsche car color chart called Flemish Gold. There is no other tympani drums in the world like the A-Flat Youth Orchestra's drums.

   

Sanding the drum, and the finished drum.

 

Images of tympanums number two and three being painted. Drum number two was badly cracked as seen in the picture on the right.

Today the A-Flat Youth Orchestra has three drums in its tympani set.

 

The next month was an exciting one when a producer from the NBC Today Show came to Kansas City to do a segment on the orchestra for his Feel Good Friday series. The producer and his staff came to Kansas City to make videos of the students while they were in rehearsal.

 

           

The NBC Today Show producer and staff came to Kansas City to tape the orchestra while in rehearsal in July 2017.

 

The NBC Today Show covered the A-Flat Youth Orchestra for their Feel Good Friday series in 2017

In August, Fox 4 News captured the St. James UMC A-Flat Youth Orchestra story. In September, Darryl Chamberlain was contacted by a staff representative of the St. Patrick's Day Parade association and was asked if it were possible for the orchestra to be in the St. Patrick's Day parade. This was a big request. String orchestras did not play in parades. Chamberlain did not give it much of a thought and said yes. Then the real challenge began of how to put a string orchestra in the parade. The answer was obvious. He would have to build a float. It was also obvious that Chamberlain would need something like an 18-wheeler trailer to create the float. After researching the possibilities, Chamberlain was introduced to Terry Snelling of Snelling Construction who assured him that he could get a trailer and truck to pull it. Chamberlain enlisted a local art teacher Bonnye Brown to come up with a design for the float. Bonnye Brown turned the float project over to her art students who were part of her G.I.F.T. Art House studio. The students worked double time to turn a 60-foot trailer into a parade float.

 Meanwhile other news media took interest in the A-Flat Youth Orchestra and in October, the story of the orchestra appeared in Kansas City Spaces magazine. Other news outlets across the nation also posted links to the A-Flat Youth Orchestra video that was done by the NBC Today Show producers.

    

KC Spaces magazine ran an article on the A-Flat Youth Orchestra story in 2017.

 

           

                                                    The A-Flat Youth Orchestra                                                                                                        Kansas City 2017 Mayor Sly James

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra performs for Teach for America at the American Jazz Museum in 2017. The event was attended by the mayor of Kansas City Missouri.

In November, the orchestra performed at the American Jazz Museum for Teach for America's annual fundraiser. In December, 41 Action News took interest in the A-Flat Music Studio story which aired the following year in February. Something special and new was happening to the orchestra every month. The year 2018 was just as busy as the previous year. The orchestra opened the year performing in a Black history program and then went on to take third place in the band and drill team division of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. This would be the first time that a string orchestra would appear in the parade.

 

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra performs in the 2018 St. Patrick's Day parade. It would be the first time that a string orchestra would appear in the parade.

A-Flat Music Studio was rapidly outgrowing its class space at St. James UMC. Darryl Chamberlain began offering afternoon classes at the WEB DuBois Learning Center in the afternoon while holding morning classes at St. James UMC. However, in January 2019, A-Flat Music Studio Inc. had outgrown its space at St. James United Methodist Church. Equipment storage became a problem as the orchestra's equipment rapidly grew. Classroom space was an issue where the A-Flat Music Studio program was running two classes on the hour simultaneously, and A-Flat Music Studio Inc., had grown to involve five instructors. The only solution was to move to a bigger space which is when Darryl Chamberlain moved the entire A-Flat Music Studio Inc. class operations to the WEB DuBois Learning Center. It was upon that move that Chamberlain changed the name of the orchestra to the A-Flat Youth Orchestra.

By the end of the year 2019 the A-Flat Youth Orchestra had appeared on five television broadcasts, numerous radio broadcasts, and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. The highlight of the orchestra career was in 2019 was when the A-Flat Youth Orchestra  appeared in the Future Stages Festival at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. This young orchestra was humbled to perform in that magnificent edifice. By this time, the orchestra had grown to include, strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, guitar, and marimba. The A-Flat Youth Orchestra was evolving into a different kind of orchestra.

 

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra prepares to perform at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts Future Stages Festival in 2019.

 

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra poses after the concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. This picture does not include the beginner students who are a part of the A-Flat Music Studio Inc. classes.

The orchestra performed at several impressive venues in the year 2019. In the fall of the year, the A-Flat Youth Orchestra performed at the Polsky Theater at Johnson County Community College. The event was well-attended and the orchestra was well-received. Several of the beginner students got their first opportunity to perform with the orchestra.

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra at the Polsky Theater at Johnson County Community College.

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra ended the year 2019 with a bang when they were asked to perform in on the December 30th Kwanzaa event hosted by the Black United Front. The orchestra came out with new songs and new ideas as they thrilled the audience in their final performance for the year. The director, Darryl Chamberlain got the idea of including a couple of songs that came from the new movie Harriet, which is a biopic on the legacy of the Harriet Tubman. The program included the Jamison Memorial Temple CME Church choir and a special soloist from the A-Flat Youth Orchestra.

      

   

Images from the 2019 Kwanzaa celebration at the Gem Theater.

 

The A-Flat Youth Orchestra is off to start its fourth year in operation and is already looking forward to performing in some prestigious venues. The orchestra serves as a conduit for students who are looking for a deeper experience in instrumental music. It also serves as a supplement to public school music programs as well as an alternative for those students whose public schools do not have instrumental music classes. If you would like for your child to participate in the A-Flat Music Studio Inc. classes, select the Sign up for lessons link in the header above.

 

Select the link below to see the video from the NBC Today Show, Feel Good Friday segment

featuring The A-Flat Youth Orchestra!

Click here to view the 2017 NBC Today Show video on the A-Flat Youth Orchestra!

 

Select the link below to see the 2019 video by Fox 4 News in Kansas City!

Click here to see the 2019 Fox 4 News broadcast in Kansas City!

 

Select the link below to see The A-Flat Youth Orchestra in the 2018 St. Patrick's Day Parade!

2018 St. Patrick's Day Parade!

 

Select the link below to see the 2018 video by 41 Action News in Kansas City!

Click here to see the 2018 41 Action News broadcast in Kansas City!

 

Select the link below to see the 2017 video by Fox 4 News in Kansas City!

Click here to see the 2017 Fox 4 News broadcast in Kansas City!

Select the link below to listen the 2017 July 12 interview on Radio Station KKFI 90.1 FM in Kansas City!

Click here to see the 2017 KKFI 90.1 radio interview.

Select the link below to see the article by the Kansas City Star!

Click here see the article by the Kansas City Star!

 

Click here to see a video at the 2018 MLK Celebration!

 

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