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Behind the music

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Even before Maestra Rachel Worby of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra lowers her baton, concluding John Williams's "The Cowboys Overture," the audience at John Adams Middle School is cheering and whistling their approval.

Looking more like an MTV star than a symphony conductor, with her ponytail dancing down her back, Ms. Worby turns to the students, announcing, "You asked what I do for a living, well, this is [it]."

Unlike many of the concertgoers who attend Pops performances - nibbling gourmet picnics beneath the stars - 95 percent of the students at John Adams receive federally funded free lunches.

Their school is old and overcrowded, located in a bleak industrial district of South Los Angeles. The grounds are mostly concrete; even their athletic field is asphalt.

But their principal, Joseph Santana, works on helping his students to find beauty in all things, including the rose garden he planted amid the concrete, and the music Worby brings to his school.

The 50-minute concert, however, is not a one-time special event - what some educators dub "drive-by arts education." Instead, it just one piece of a three-year-long relationship between a conductor and her audience, a teacher and her pupils.

Worby will work with the same 500 middle-schoolers - kids more apt to quote the lyrics of rapper 50 Cent than tap out the opening rhythm of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - until they graduate in 2006.

Her purpose is not to develop new musicians or groom a future generation of season ticketholders. Nor is it to raise standardized test scores, although according to the National Association for Music Educators, an impressive correlation exists between music study and academic achievement.

The main objective, says the conductor, is to teach discipline.

People often tell children to hang onto their dreams. But dreaming is not enough, says Worby.

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