The MYSO organization, this season comprised of more than 900 of the metro area’s finest young musicians enrolled in a full season of musical activities, has a long-standing and deep commitment to community outreach. MYSO’s Community Engagement program has long taken MYSO ensembles into schools (and sometimes nursing homes and community centers) throughout the entire metro area.
With the move to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center in 2005, MYSO expanded its community engagement efforts to include an ambitious new Neighborhood Concert Series, offering dozens of free MYSO performances for area school children, presented in MYAC's beautiful Youth Arts Hall. In addition, there have been enhanced efforts to make MYSO’s regular season concerts more accessible and available, plus an increased emphasis on engaging and enrolling young musicians from previously under-represented populations.
For some of the young people we reach, hearing the MYSO concerts is their only exposure to “serious” music. For others, MYSO’s concerts are a welcome addition to the already strong musical education they receive. One of the most positive and unique corollary benefits to this program is for students to have opportunities to see—and hear—their peers as role models, with additional opportunities for peer mentoring.
Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1956, is particularly qualified to reach into the community in this way. MYSO has established itself not only as one of the premier youth arts education/performing organizations in the country, but has also presented a consistent record of fiscal stability and accountability. Playing fine music at an exceptionally high level, the young musicians in MYSO develop and display visible commitment, dedication, teamwork, effort, discipline, focus, goal-orientation, self-reliance, leadership and effective time management. Their music helps their own character development, and they can serve as wonderful role models when performing for their peers—as well as playing great music extremely well.
Area musicians and critics measure MYSO’s artistic quality on a regular basis—and give the organization very high marks. In 2000, following a rigorous audition and application process, our Senior Symphony was honored with an invitation to participate in the National Youth Orchestra Festival, with four other top-ranking youth orchestras—all from metro areas much larger than Milwaukee. We anticipate that our reputation for quality will not simply be sustained, but will grow. Our goal is to take this quality into the schools, benefiting both performers and audiences—and to locate and recruit new students into the MYSO program.
MYSO's Community Impact
Over the years, we have seen many dramatic and measurable indications of the enduring effects of our outreach activity. These include:
- calls from music directors at other schools asking to be included as performance sites in our outreach program.
- repeat invitations from area schools and centers
- phone calls requesting audition appointments for students who were at outreach performances
- testimonials to the effect that MYSO’s outreach performance have had on a young person
- requests from neighborhood groups for increasing numbers of complimentary tickets to attend our regular concerts
- phone calls/letters from teachers and administrators expressing their gratitude
- unusually well-behaved audiences
- letters of thanks from students in the audiences
These outreach efforts will take place on an ongoing basis during the current season, which runs from September to May. MYSO’s outreach program is very much a win-win initiative. The audiences benefit, of course; but the benefits for the young performing musicians themselves should not be under-estimated.
The corollary benefits of music study referenced earlier (focus, discipline, etc.) are very well documented. Moreover, the involvement of the very talented MYSO music staff, including 9 accomplished conductors plus a number of very accomplished professional musicians serving as coaches, brings the students in contact with a very accomplished and dedicated group of experienced music educators who are well-trained in working with young performers and young audiences. The recruiting potential of the outreach initiative simply multiplies the opportunities to expose young people to situations wherein they can gain valuable life skills through music.
Additionally, although graduates of MYSO often go on to conservatory music study and then into careers as performers and teachers, equally important is the role played by other graduates, who become the core of the audiences of the future, playing an essential role in assuring the vitality and long-term existence of the performing arts. MYSO’s outreach effort has the potential to extend this audience development effect—and the many other benefits of music study and listening—to a much wider audience.