Today I am featuring my first guest blogger: my wife, Claudette Laureano. She has been an educator for what seems all her life in some form or other. Whether a private teacher of violin, instructor of string orchestras at Breck School in Golden Valley, MN. or as co-artistic Director at MYS. This, which started as a bit of post-partum therapy, has evolved as a final statement of work done on behalf of young music students.
Dear MYS Musicians and Families,
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we leave our beloved MYS. We were hired in 1988 to save MYS from extinction. We were told in so many words, “Sink or swim”.
When we first arrived, there were two orchestra levels, String Orchestra and Symphony. There was also a chamber orchestra which was made up of some of the stronger Symphony members. Symphony was originally MYS’s top orchestra but due to a decline in enrollment in the late 1980’s, the board decided to combine two symphonic orchestras to form one Symphony orchestra which lowered the technical level of the ensemble significantly.
Every dream begins with a vision and we always believed that “To be good is not enough when you dream of being great.” That became our vision: to be great and to inspire greatness in others. It was our goal, our mission, our passion.
When we set out to rebuild MYS in 1988, we put into place rules that would give some direction to achieve our ambitious goals. Attendance was the biggest hurdle as there were no set rules in place. We, however, believed that with consistent rehearsals, students would build technique, musicianship, and understanding. We taught team work and that every person is an essential member of the orchestra. We taught responsibility and commitment (attending rehearsals with parts prepared). If someone made a commitment to play in MYS, we expected them to prioritize it over other activities. We insisted on hard work and the gratification that it brings as the result. We taught motivation so students in the program would better themselves, win a prominent seat, move up to the next orchestra level, and then finally reach their desired goal of playing in the top orchestra on the stage of Orchestra Hall, one of the finest concert halls in the world. Most importantly, we taught passion and what it means to be passionate about music.
It takes years and vision to build a successful program. From the beginning, we wanted MYS to be the standard for youth orchestra programs everywhere. We knew it would take time. Right at the beginning, we implemented our attendance policy and began to refine and develop expectations for each orchestra. We changed our audition requirements over several years; first implementing scales, arpeggios, orchestral excerpts, and included rhythm excerpts for the more advanced string students. These requirements raised the standards of all our ensembles and as the years passed, we were all able to choose challenging literature performed at high artistic levels.
Rotating students within sections was an important way to help build confidence and experience in our young musicians. Sitting in the front of a violin section is far easier than sitting in the back. Since there were three concerts each year, we rotated the strings to the best of our ability, so the students could experience playing in the front, middle, and back. The woodwinds, percussion, and brass were also rotated so most everyone got to play first, second, third or fourth parts. If a student ended up playing, for example, third and second parts at one concert we made sure they got the opportunity during another concert to play a first part.
We were committed to developing a strong and stable coaching staff of experts to assist the conductors. We hired brass, woodwind, and percussion coaches to run weekly sectionals for all the orchestras. We also hired an assistant string teacher to help with our youngest string orchestra. We began a Wind Orchestra two years ago to train younger and less experienced wind, brass, and percussionists to play in an ensemble and to prepare them for our Philharmonic orchestra. We also had summer programs that were geared for younger string students. We also had a jazz band, a Baroque chamber music course, a theory and keyboard program and a few other choices over the years.
We began and developed supplemental classes so that students became well-rounded musicians. Over the years, we offered theory, sight-singing, composition, classes on rhythms and also how to practice, and how to prepare for a college musical entrance exam. One of the most exciting things we did was to create an MYS choir made up of students (and even parents!) for when certain orchestral pieces required a chorus. Among the works performed were Sibelius’s Finlandia, music from the movie Lord of the Rings, Holst’s The Planets, and music by John Williams. These groups were led by Terry Burk and were a thrill for the orchestras to hear the music complete with the choir parts sung by their peers.
In addition to our artistic staff running weekly sectionals we put into place a program where members of the Minnesota Orchestra were invited to run one sectional per concert cycle in preparation for each performance of the year. This allowed students to learn from artists who were some of the top-working professionals in their field.
On several occasions the Minnesota Chorale sang with Symphony and even with the Repertory orchestras. Manny’s programs were often unique and not what most youth orchestras would even dream of programing. Symphony performed entire acts from well-known operas with great local artists. They also performed Verdi’s Requiem, several Mahler Symphonies, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and other demanding works. Our young musicians never once disappointed us. Each challenge and concert yielded outstanding results and a lifetime of memories for all involved. Our Symphony students got to accompany some top entertainers and artists who were known locally and world-wide. They included trumpeter Doc Severinsen, pianist Nachito Herrera, fiddler Peter Ostroushko, singer Maria Jette, and pianist Butch Thompson, to name a few.
Commissioning new works was also part of our vision and some of those pieces have been played all over the world and not only by youth orchestras.
Our executive director, Vicki Krueger, knew the importance of bringing music to the under-served communities of the Twin Cities. MYS was one of the first local musical organizations to begin working with children at risk, providing them with free violin lessons, instruments to use in the school building for practicing, and an opportunity to perform at Orchestra Hall.
We also saw the need to introduce orchestral music to families with young children, so, we developed a program called Music and Melody Makers. Children and parents who attended these events were provided with an opportunity to try all the instruments of the orchestra, led by our own students. After their hands-on experiences with the instruments, they were treated to a brief demonstration and concert by the orchestra that was hosting the event.
Every musician dreams of performing in the finest concert halls in the world. Fortunately for MYS, we happen to live in a city which houses one of those concert halls, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Our goal was to have our MYS musicians return to that very stage after a long absence. We wanted to make Orchestra Hall our “home away from home” so when we were not at Highland Jr. and Sr. High School, we would be at Orchestra Hall. Before that, we performed in school auditoriums and churches. Then, in the early to mid 1990’s, we finally returned to Orchestra Hall and after that, with one exception, we never played anywhere else until 2012. That was the year that the Minnesota Orchestra was locked out due to a work dispute between the orchestra and its management. In support of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians, we chose not to perform at Orchestra Hall until the lockout was resolved.
From the start, we believed that we could build a quality program through hard work, consistency, and dedication. We were constantly analyzing the program, the performances, the seating set up, the auditions, the audition materials, whatever we felt would help us to get to the next level of excellence. The goal was always to do it better than the last time, so the bar continued to go up after each rehearsal and performance and there seemed to be no end in sight.
We learned to never underestimate the importance of a great team that works well together. In order for a program to be successful and thrive there are three separate teams that must work independently but in conjunction with each other. First, there is the artistic team which includes the artistic director(s), the conducting staff, the teachers, and coaches. The second team is made up of the Board of Directors. Their job is to see that the organization is secure monetarily and oversee the needs of the program. They, like the artistic directors, must have a clear vision and need to set long-and short-term goals to make sure that the organization will be around for years to come. The third team is the administrative team. That often includes an executive director, an operations manager, a librarian, a development director,
a communications director and a receptionist. If an organization is healthy and thriving, all three teams work together harmoniously. As soon as one team begins to fail, the entire organization is at risk unless the problems are addressed and rectified quickly.
Our vision for MYS has remained exactly the same for the 32 years that we have been co-music directors. We strived to be the best, not the biggest. We wanted our students to walk away from our program having received an outstanding orchestral experience, second to none. We always felt our job was to prepare students, not only for a career in music, should they choose that path, but for life. The real world is tough and similarly, so are we. When students graduate from our program, they leave with a better understanding that success is synonymous with commitment, responsibility, passion, and dedication. You cannot have one without the others. We perceived that in the past several years, the MYS executive team and the board’s philosophy and vision had begun to change with the times. We found ourselves at a loss since we feel so strongly that our way of teaching and running this program had been successful and had proven itself year after year. We are not retiring and we are not tired of working with our young musicians. Children are the same as they were 30 years ago. They can be inspired and taught to achieve great things that they may have only imagined in their dreams. They can be taught to deal with disappointment, endure it while striving to better themselves, and eventually, reach their goals. Great accomplishments are long term goals that can be reached with drive, persistence, determination.
At this time, we feel it is best to step down from our posts as music directors and conductors of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies. We will take with us the cherished memories that we experienced during our 32 wonderful years and wish all our musicians and their families success and happiness in the coming years.
Claudette and Manny Laureano