Community Engagement Concerts Bring Music to Young People

While our flagship ensembles get most of the spotlight, did you know that CYSO runs a range of community engagement programs across the city? A large part of that outreach happens every spring, when CYSO presents concerts specifically tailored for school audiences. Education Concerts are field trip-based performances by CYSO orchestras and attended by hundreds of Chicago Public Schools elementary schoolers, and our Ambassadors concerts brings CYSO chamber groups into CPS schools to present interactive concerts. Headed by Community Engagement Manager Karen Mari, both arms of the program together reached nearly 5,000 young people this year, bringing music to students who don’t always have regular access within their school.

CYSO wind Ambassadors group presents to students at
Wind Ambassadors present at Acero Roberto Clemente School

CYSO’s Ambassadors program exposes students to live music performances performed by fellow young people. Designed and presented by CYSO Chamber Music groups, the concerts are performed in area schools to expose students to instruments, musical genres, and cultures that they may not have experiences before. CYSO musicians are trained in developing age-appropriate content and develop the program’s repertoire and educational segments themselves. The hope is that seeing fellow young people perform will serve as a catalyst to inspire students in the audience to pursue music and join their school’s band or orchestra programs.

This spring, CYSO presented a series of 22 Ambassadors concerts that were especially prepared for third through fifth grade audiences. Concerts offered a wide variety of music from woodwind, brass, string, and jazz groups. In total over 3,500 CPS elementary students and their teachers attended, with 100% of teachers reporting positive feedback in post-concert surveys.

For CYSO students, the Ambassadors experience can be extremely powerful. They are empowered to program the repertoire the group will present and for perhaps the first time, they get to consider what might “hook” a young person into exploring instrumental music. Symphony Orchestra violinist and strings Ambassadors member Sofia Grimes shared, “The experience provided by the Ambassador program not only improved my public speaking and performing skills, but it was a moving cultural and educational experience as well. Reaching out to young people in this manner made classical music more approachable to an incredibly diverse audience in a mutually enriching manner.”

In addition, getting up close and personal with the elementary-age audience offers a wealth of positive feedback, and sometimes a bit of a “rockstar” feeling. “The children were very curious and enthusiastic,” Sofia said. “We performed excerpts from Beethoven’s first string quartet and shared with them our musical journey with the piece and introduced them to the composer himself.  After the performances, children came up to me to show their appreciation by giving me a hug.”

Jazz Orchestra performing “Big Band Bash” Education Concert in Studebaker Theater

Similar to Ambassadors, CYSO’s Education Concerts are often the CPS students’ first experience hearing live classical music, much less music performed by fellow young people. These performances take place in a traditional concert hall, with groups bussed in from across the city. CYSO offered steelpan, jazz, and orchestra Education Concerts and, similar to Ambassadors, our musicians presented both music and interactive content about the instruments, and history and background of the pieces they perform.

Nearly 1,600 CPS elementary school students attended Education Concerts this spring, presented by more than 100 CYSO performers. Concerts took place at the Fine Arts Building’s Studebaker Theater as well as the South Shore Cultural Center.

All together, these Community Engagement concerts engaged 51 CPS schools from across the city: 22 Ambassadors sites and 29 schools who attended Education Concerts. We saw tremendous growth and maturity displayed by our presenting CYSO musicians and hope the performances lit a musical spark for some of the young people in the audience. Congratulations to everyone who participated!

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