Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Community Partnership Programs


Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Community Partnership Programs

Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Inc.
325 West Walnut Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212
Phone: 414.267.2950
Fax: 414.267.2960

Focus: Music

Annual Number Participating: 367

Ages: Elementary School, Middle School, High School

Annual Budget: $955,580

Partners: Boys & Girls Clubs; First Stage/Milwaukee Youth Arts Center; Milwaukee Public Schools; United Community Center’s Latino Arts Strings Program; Waukesha School District

Funders: Greater Milwaukee Foundation; Herzfeld Foundation; Milwaukee Public Schools Partnership for the Arts and Humanities; The Burke Foundation; United Performing Arts Fund

Many youth orchestras struggle with how to ensure that their organizations reflect the communities they serve and how to offer the benefits of musical education to students with potential whose families may lack the resources for private instruction. During the past 12 years, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) has made a deep commitment to addressing these concerns. With an array of Community Partnership Programs (CPP), MYSO is not only changing the face of the orchestra and diversifying its musical offerings, but it is also serving as a successful model for other organizations.

The initiative’s cornerstone is Progressions, an intensive string-training program aimed at third and fourth graders from lower-income and minority families. It’s designed to provide the foundation that students need to move forward in the orchestra. CPP staff carefully screen applicants, referred by schools, to ensure that they understand the program’s demands: Participants attend lessons and rehearsals three times a week and devote additional time to practicing and performing. Youth accepted into the program receive strong support from the staff and qualify for financial aid for such items as private lessons and transportation. After two years, Progressions students can audition for more advanced ensembles.

Through the Community Partnership Programs, the organization also has expanded training options for middle and high school students beyond classical strings, offering jazz and steel-drum ensembles, along with need-based financial aid. What unites the various programs is an emphasis on “excellence in the instruction and in the outcomes,” explains Artistic Director Carter Simmons. MYSO sets a high, but attainable, bar so that students gain confidence and have fun, while continuing to expand their capabilities.

Participants from lower-income and minority households now make up more than a third of MYSO’s 1,000 total students. And, those who’ve entered the orchestra through the CPP initiative are beginning to make their mark at MYSO’s highest levels.

“It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world, meet new people, and play music in foreign places,” shares Malik Johnson, a cellist and high school junior, who started with Progressions in 2007. In 2015, his dream became a reality when Johnson—and two other musicians who also had started in Progressions—performed in Vienna and Budapest as members of MYSO’s most advanced ensemble.

MYSO has taught me how to read rhythms and notes. But, more importantly, it taught me how to actually make music by expressing myself through it. I was able to cope with tough situations because I had the ability to pick up an instrument and let out whatever I was feeling.

Giselle Oliva participant, MYSO Community Partnership Programs