By Jessica Federkeil, Point Park News Service:
Katie Morrow received the opportunity of a lifetime as a high school sophomore: playing on stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall in Downtown, Pittsburgh.
“It was a very surreal moment,” said Morrow now a senior cello player at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. “Just being on the stage with a world-class symphony and the conductor was great. Then I started imaging the artists that have been on the same stage before…. It was an unreal experience.”
Over the course of the school year, Western Pennsylvania high school students have the chance to participate in a mentor program with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The H.J. Heinz Company Audience of the Future program gives high school students the opportunity to plan and produce a concert for the symphony.
“The students do everything from the marketing to selecting the pieces performed,” said Tommy Walters, 26, director of education with the symphony. “It is a very hands-on learning program.”
The concert also features a Side-by-Side program, allowing the students the chance to perform on stage with the symphony.
The theme selected this year is “Splendid City.” The concert will be at 7 p.m., April 28 at Heinz Hall. It is open to the public. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.
This year’s group consists of 70 students from different high schools throughout the region.
“I’ve participated in the program for at least 10 years,” said Bonnie Myers-Toward, the orchestra director at Knoch High School in the South Butler School District. “The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is a world-class orchestra, and I love my students and want to give them every opportunity possible.”
Walters said the program opens new opportunities for the students involved.
“When I think about the program, I think about how great it is for these kids,” he said. “If something like this were opened to me earlier, I would have realized that you could work in the industry if you aren’t on the stage. They really see all the opportunities that are offered, and it opens a door to them.”
Walters isn’t the only one wishing he could have been involved in such a program in high school.
“When I was in high school, I wish there was something like this for me,” said Lindsey Nova, executive director of the Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras. “I went through music school for my instrument. It never occurred to me that there would be other jobs in music aside from performing…. You are only seeing the performers, not all the work behind the scenes that made the concert happen.”
Students say they have noticed the influence the program has had on them and their future.
“The Audience of the Future program has impacted me a lot,” Morrow said. “It really sparked my love for music. It showed me all the different ways to be involved in music and not be on stage. Now, I know I can add on to playing my cello and always do something in music.”
The program is free for the schools to participate, and all ticket proceeds go back to the schools involved in the program. The schools are free to spend the funds as they want.
“They can use it to buy new music, instruments, fund trips,” Walters said. “Its theirs to use how they choose. They are getting a reward from all the work they put into the concert.”
Myers-Toward said she has seen a sense of pride in her students who have participated in the past.
“In the past few years, we’ve be able to purchase a bass and cello for the school,” she said. “The students make it happen, and they are excited when they can look at an instrument and say, ‘I helped pay for that. I made that happen.’”
This year the students decided on premiering three new compositions. The students are offered leading-edge technology from the symphony too.
“We are meeting national standards in music education and media arts,” Walters said. “Technology is always advancing, and we are trying to stay with the times. We try our best to introduce and use new technologies.”
Teachers notice the impact on the program in other ways too.
“The Audience of the Future program really helps to expand the horizons of the students,” Nova said. “It does more for their long-term relationship with music than anything.”