Alumni Spotlight: Allison Brady, ’95 & Dean Brady, ’19

Dean and Allison Brady, mother and son CYSO alums

It’s not uncommon to see CYSO alumni passing on the love of music to their kids, and that’s definitely the case with 1995 alum Allison Brady and 2019 alum Dean Brady. A flutist and private teacher for more than 20 years, Allison was a member of CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music program and went on to introduce her son, Dean, to the flute at well. Dean also performed in CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music program, and recently won the national audition for the US Navy Band. CYSO Social Media Team member Marisa Lin spoke with Allison and Dean Brady to discuss their mother/son connection to flute and their experiences in CYSO .

How did you both start playing the flute?

Sir James Galway, world famous flute virtuoso

Allison: I started playing in second grade. I chose the flute was because PBS used to always have so much classical music on in the 80s. I saw James Galway play and was so inspired; he was kind of my childhood hero. I had a picture of him on my wall instead of the Backstreet Boys! I was really lucky that my mom was able to find a teacher who was able to teach a second grader because people used to start the flute quite a bit later. My teacher was even a little bit hesitant to start with me because she didn’t know about smaller sized flutes, so I started on a big flute and was very motivated. She was also a second grade teacher, so she was a good fit to teach flute to a little kid.

Dean: I started in kindergarten, and I started because I didn’t want to really do any other activities.

Allison: I remember looking through the park district book and asking, “Do you want to play soccer?” but Dean just liked playing at home. He wasn’t excited about any of the things that I was reading through in the park district book.

Dean: And then I was like, “Oh, I guess I’ll play the flute because my mom plays the flute.” So it worked out very well in that way.

Allison: His exact words were, “I’ll play the flute because it must be pretty easy if you can do it!” He quickly found out it was not quite as easy.

Dean performing in Philharmonic Orchestra’s inaugural concert in 2016

Allison, I know you were Dean’s flute teacher up through high school. How did you feel when he first started playing the flute and then when he joined CYSO?

Allison: When he first started, we had so much fun in his lessons. He was such an easy student because it was the end of play time that we would have lessons. When there are two other kids [in the family], it’s nice to have one-on-one time with your parents where they’re giving you their complete attention. He practiced on his own quite a bit, and it was always a little bit hard to see him struggle, like when he would have to play in front of people. So there was definitely a hard push-and-pull for me as the teacher and mom, thinking, “Oh no, maybe this was a little too hard for him” and from a teacher’s standpoint “No, keep pushing.”

I was so proud of him when he wanted to audition for CYSO because I knew I had such wonderful memories from my time there. Some of my happiest times in my teenage years were being in CYSO and with the people that I met there. For him to be able to experience that same thing made me so happy.

Dean, what did you hear from your mom about CYSO while growing up?

Dean: I heard a lot of stories of people who later on became very famous, like how she played in a woodwind quintet with Anthony McGill.

Allison: I was so lucky that it was such an amazing group, and we were having so much fun. Anthony is a year younger than me and probably the most successful, and his brother Demarre is a couple years older than me. The McGills are such a nice family. Monica Williams was also one of my great flute friends along with Beth Cameron and Kyra Tyler. We all went to the same private teacher and were really close friends and being in the woodwind quintet, we got to know one another well.

We got to play at Mayor Daley’s inauguration party and at the Art Institute one time in front of the famous Caillebotte painting. I remember someone pestering Anthony by turning the pages of his book while we were mid-song and thinking, “Oh my gosh, how rude!” But Anthony went with it, and luckily he knew the music well enough that he just kept playing.

Allison Brady (pictured far left in first photo and in red in second photo) performed with other CYSO members at the Art Institute (left) and at Mayor Daley’s inauguration (right)

Another question for you Dean: how did your mom influence your growth as a musician?

Dean: She always gave me a good push to just stick with it all the time. She made sure that whenever I was frustrated or was having some trouble on the instrument, she was always there for me to answer questions or be like “Hey, you should practice!” When I was younger, the motivation was a little different since I wanted to go outside more, but it was a healthy push and it worked out.

What is one of the best lessons both of you learned from your time in CYSO?

Dean: Always take advantage of the opportunities offered to you and play as much great music as you can. I remember one time when I was playing the Barber’s First Symphony and I thought, “I want to play this again!” So my drive to want to play and be a part of the music might even stem from there.

Allison: For me, I think it was being around peers who are so inspiring and finding other people that had the same interest that I did and were at even higher levels than I was at the time. You could tell on Sunday evenings when we’d get there that for most people, this was the best part of the week—being able to make music together and see each other. I think being inspired to make really good music together was the best thing that I learned.

Dean Brady performed Barber’s Symphony No. 1 with CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in May 2018.

You both mentioned that you have a lot of fond memories in CYSO. What were some of your most memorable moments?

Dean: The really crazy moment was when we played Varèse’s Amériques and Maestro Tinkham conducted the entire piece from memory. I don’t know how he did that. I think working with that piece and overcoming the extreme challenges to play to the best of our abilities made it a fun year.

Allison: There are so many fond memories, but musically, one of the first pieces I remember playing was Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony under Daniel Hege. Everything needed to be clean and spot on and in tune. Besides my private lessons, I had never experienced that level and trying to play it as perfect and clean and balanced as possible with all of the instruments. I remember him singing in rehearsal because some people weren’t spot-on with their articulation or rhythm in that opening. That was a great learning experience for me, being able to play that Beethoven Symphony and also being able to play it in Orchestra Hall. It was amazing to be able to do that after all that work.

Dean Brady (second from the right) poses with other members of the Symphony Orchestra flute section before their fall 2017 concert at Orchestra Hall

So Mrs. Brady, you’ve played with CYSO, your son Dean has played with CYSO, and now some of your current students play in CYSO. How have you seen the organization change over the years?

Allison: Well, there’s been so much growth! When I was in CYSO, there weren’t so many orchestras, so I’m so happy they expanded because there are so many talented musicians in this area playing at a high level. I’m so glad that they have more orchestras to fit everyone into, and I’m glad that they’re still touring because those were also really wonderful memories for me. It’s also great how large the chamber program is now because when I was in it, it didn’t seem like there were quite as many. So I’m really happy to see that CYSO is thriving!

Allison Brady (then Allison Domanus) is listed in the flute section from this program from CYSO’s 1994 tour of Italy

Was there a certain moment that made either of you decide to pursue music professionally?

Dean: I think it was something I had wanted to do for a really long time, and it was solidified one time when we went to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert and watched Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto. My mind was just blown by how awesome and cool it was to be able to play things like that.

Allison: For me, I wanted to do it since I first saw a professional musician in second grade. I had it in my head that I wanted to do this. I think my parents kept thinking “She’ll get burnt out,” but it didn’t go away and I still like doing it, so it was a good choice.

Moving away from CYSO now, what have the two of you been up to since you’ve left?

Allison: Well I went to University of Illinois and got my bachelor’s degree in music performance and then after that, I kind of just got lucky. One of my friends that went to University of Illinois with me sent me an email saying that he had a job at Neuqua Valley High School and wasn’t going to be able to do it anymore. I knew that I was going to be coming back to the area, so I was able to interview and take over that position. Now I teach other schools in District 204, too. I’ve been doing that since I’ve graduated so I think it’s been around 24 years now. I’m so lucky to have found a spot where music is encouraged. The students are so motivated to be playing at a high level, so it’s really fun to teach private lessons in this area.

Dean: I have not been doing anything for as long, but I left CYSO after my junior year to go to Interlochen which was really fun. After that, I went to Eastman for four years to study with Bonnie Boyd, who was one of my favorite people in the world. I spent my last two summers at the Colorado Music Festival and while I was auditioning for Masters degree programs, I found out that I won the job with the Navy Band, so that’s where I am now.

Some of my happiest times in my teenage years were being in CYSO and with the people that I met there. For him to be able to experience that same thing made me so happy.

Allison Brady

What advice would you give to current CYSO students?

Dean: Play as much chamber music as possible. Obviously solo and orchestral music is fun, but there’s something about playing chamber music where it combines the two and you have the opportunity to work with others and play in a smaller environment. I would say the main reason I ended up winning a job was because I really understand how to play with others. That was one thing the committee mentioned : “You would be someone who would be good to play with.” So that aspect is super important—play with other people even if it’s not at CYSO or your high school, just play with other people as much as possible.

Allison: Enjoy this time of your life! Enjoy making this music every weekend, and make sure you’re really listening to the music because it is such good literature. Listen to lots of recordings so you can really appreciate the music that you’re making in the ensemble, and study the score as you’re learning it because it really helps you have that deeper understanding of the music you’re making.

Thank you to Allison and Dean Brady for sharing your insights and your story!


Marisa LinMarisa Lin is a violinist soon to be in CYSO’s Concert Orchestra and rising junior at Lyons Township High School. Marisa wrote this post as part of her role as CYSO’s Summer 2023 Marketing Intern. When she’s not practicing, you can find Marisa developing new recipes for her baking blog or taking goofy pictures of her dog.

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