The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra has been approved to work with a Marquette Trinity Fellow for two years. The Trinity Fellowship from Marquette University is a graduate fellowship for those dedicated to social and economic justice. Fellows must have prior volunteer service in AmeriCorps or PeaceCorps.
Fellows then complete a Master's degree in their graduate program of choice, while also working at a local community organization. Each year the Marquette Trinity Fellows Program supports 10 fellows with a full tuition scholarship, living stipend, and opportunity for professional development at a Milwaukee nonprofit.
MYSO applied and was matched with a Trinity Fellow, who will join the staff in September of 2016. Since I'm currently working at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center as a Trinity Fellow and will be leaving soon, I wanted to get to know the next Trinity Fellow to work in this building.
Simba Gandari will join the MYSO staff in the fall, and will assist with finance and business administration while earning his MBA at Marquette.
What's your background? Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. Just after high school I got bitten by the travel bug and this led me to India. After two years I came to the U.S and this has been my home the last 9 years. My work background is in sports based youth development. Using soccer as a tool to educate inner city youth on traits like teamwork, leadership and commitment has been my biggest goal. For my undergraduate studies I went to Cardinal Stritch University where I got my Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management.
What will you study at Marquette? What do you hope to learn?
I will be pursuing a Masters in Business Administration from Marquette. My hope is to learn how to help businesses solve problems using innovative ideas. I want to use what I learn in the classroom to help others better their businesses.
Since MYSO is an arts education program, do you have any background in the arts?
I actually know very little about arts education but this is what drew me to MYSO, it’s an opportunity to learn more. I thrive on new opportunities and challenges, and MYSO will produce both. My goal is to learn from each experience.
What aspect of the Fellowship are you most excited about?
I’m excited to meet and build relationships with the other Trinity Fellows.
Is there anything in particular you're excited about with your placement at MYSO? What are you hoping to learn during your work at MYSO?
My hope is to learn what it’s like to run a non-profit from the business side. The challenges that the finance, administrative and marketing departments all face on a daily basis. My long-term goal is to work in non-profit consulting and working at MYSO will provide a solid platform. I’ve also never been to a musical concert, I hope I get to attend one or two.
Outside of work and school, what are your hobbies/interests?
Participating in sports has allowed me to build lifelong friendships. I am fascinated by techniques used in different sports and I will study it until I can master it. This summer my goal is to learn how to play golf!
Lauren Armstrong is an alumna of Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. She graduated from Lawrence University with a degree in Saxophone Performance in 2014. She then studied Actuarial Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lauren is currently working as an Actuarial Analyst for American Family Insurance in Madison, WI.
What years, and what ensembles did you play in during your time in MYSO?
I was in MYSO from September 2008 to May 2010. Both years I played bassoon in Senior Symphony and Chamber Ensemble.
What was your MYSO experience like? Did it influence your college career?
My MYSO experience was amazing and frightening at the same time. I loved being able to play orchestral music at such a high level with so many amazing musicians my age. Many of the pieces were probably the most difficult and fantastic music I encountered on bassoon. From side by sides with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, to travelling to Vancouver to playing Beethoven's Fifth, my experience with MYSO definitely made an imprint on my identity and was a major highlight of my musical career playing bassoon.
At Lawrence University, I studied saxophone performance and had gone in with bassoon performance as well, but dropped bassoon. I think my MYSO experience reinforced my passion for playing music at a high level and how meaningful collaborating with other fantastic musicians can be.
What was it like to study music at the college level? Did MYSO prepare you for that world?
There is no doubt that MYSO helped prepare me to study music at the college level. After I dropped my bassoon performance degree, it didn't take long for me to realize how much I was going to miss orchestral music. The most exciting part of studying music at college was music theory and music history. I loved the aspect of thinking critically and having such a familiarity with musical traditions and historical context to really understand the theory behind composers' decisions. Learning about all the rules behind music and the way our idea of what music should be, how it can be expressed, and different perspectives was so exciting for me.
What are you up to now? Any music or performing? Generally, how did your music training influence your life?
After college, I took the route most musicians do and I became an Actuary, per usual . . . I'm still trying to figure out how I want music to be a part of my life moving forward, but there is no doubt on whether or not it should be. From such a young age music was a language I understood, a medium I was drawn to and an outlet I find necessary. Music training has taught me so much about discipline, hard work, patience and how meaningful communication can be regardless of the medium.
Any advice for high school students considering pursuing music or the arts at the college level?
For high school students considering pursuing music or the arts at a college level, my advice would be to go for it. I will never regret music or arts being a part of my life. Yes, it was difficult at times, but there is no path that won't be. If it's something you are passionate about, it's worth pursuing.
This interview continues to celebrate and explore where the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center has come during its ten years of operation. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary all year, and to understand MYAC’s story, I’ve been talking to key staff and supporters who’ve been here since the beginning.
Fran Richman is former Executive Director of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO). She led that organization for 25 years, and co-founded MYAC with Rob Goodman during her tenure.
Fran has since retired from her role as Executive Director, but remains involved with MYSO and MYAC. This is the first part of our interview.
Fran Richman: My husband and I moved to Milwaukee in 1972, and I continued working on my doctoral dissertation for a bit. I also did some teaching at UW-Milwaukee, in the sociology department. Then we had our first child, then we had our second child, and I got further and further away from the academic thing.
When our kids were 11 and 7, I went back to work. That was in the mid-eighties, and I did budgeting and finance work for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation for a couple of years. Then with my husband, who had been a long-time board member of MYSO (then Music For Youth) and board president, we accompanied the orchestra, with a number of parents and chaperones, on a three-week concert tour of Europe in 1987.
MFY/MYSO was going through some changes at that time; it was well poised for growth, but it was dealing with some organizational issues. While we were on this tour, it became pretty clear to us that this was something that might be a very interesting setting for me.
By the following year, MYSO was in a position to hire someone for a Managing Director position. They had never had someone administering the organization fulltime. And I thought, okay I can make that leap, this might be fun. I started in 1988; Steve soon resigned from the board, and ultimately both of our kids were involved in MYSO.
Then, about ten years later, we started talking internally at MYSO about the need for more space. It was in the mid- to late-90s that we started conversations about it. It was a couple of years before anything really got going, but we were already looking—that’s kind of a fun part of the story for me—both MYSO and First Stage were at different points in their history, but both very much in need of space.
They were in the basement of the Marcus Center, and we were up on the top floor of the Marcus Center. We were independently looking at various spaces around the community—sometimes they’d be going out the back door and we’d be coming in the front door. Eventually Rob and I ran into each other in the elevator at the Marcus Center and realized: Well this is kind of dumb, we really ought to be doing this together.
Kaye Herranen: Rob said that when he started talking with MYSO, the MYSO board seemed to be further along in the planning stage than First stage was. What did this initial planning look like, before First Stage came into the picture? Were you looking to build a space? Or just exploring ideas?
FR: We honestly didn’t know, so we looked at all the options. We had a board member at that time who was involved in real estate who showed us a number of properties. We knew we needed space, but we didn’t really have a firm grasp on exactly what we wanted or needed, or maybe if we should be dreaming a little bigger.
One of the things that we had going for us was that MYSO finances had always been managed extremely conservatively, so we had an endowment, we had some reserves, we had money that we could put toward this. And we had a couple of people who we were pretty sure would step up significantly to help. But I think we were a little bit clueless about what a big project would really involve.
We looked at some wildly inappropriate buildings that we could have done something with—but it wouldn’t have been anything like this.
First Stage was much younger, and had been managed very differently. They were the ones who had some young, major movers and shakers on their board and in their audiences and parent group--folks who had kids involved with First Stage. They had a much bigger audience because of the kind of performances they did, so they had a bigger pool that they could tap into.
And the beauty of having two different art forms became crystal clear to us quickly. It was obvious that we could do a lot more if we collaborated with another organization, ideally a different kind of organization, where we could tap into different segments of the community and could hopefully convince some folks that this was an exciting, necessary, viable project.
It was not easy. There were a lot of naysayers who thought this was the dumbest idea on the planet.
KH: I was going to ask about the reception—so after you had this idea of collaborating, was it well received by board and staff?
FR: It was very well received by our board because they were close enough to understand that this was a tremendous need. MYSO was in a little bit of a box. The organization had grown very gradually and well. The organization was founded in 1956. So in 2000 it was 44 years old, and we had a lot of things going for us—including very strong support in the community, but not necessarily real broad support.
We were at a point where unless we got that broader support, unless we got more space, unless we opened up some new programs, we couldn’t really grow. We couldn’t really do much that was different or new. There were a number of programs that I had wanted to start for years and years, but we had nowhere to put them. This was especially true of some diversity initiatives that we had put “on the back burner.”
Those things began to gel as we went through the process; first we made the decision that we wanted to be in the greater downtown area. Both MYSO and First Stage are organizations that are committed to the city, and we wanted to be able to show that, in part through our locations.
Again, we looked at a lot of horribly inappropriate spaces, I think at least 40 or 50 different spaces before this one. By that time we were working with people from the First Stage board, the MYSO board, and some professionals who were assisting with feasibility and design and site selection. Sometimes we would all roll our eyes at much of what we were seeing. Because of the nature of the work done by the two organizations, our facility needs were very specific and VERY extensive, and not many buildings met them.
We got to this space and walked in, and there was kind of a collective gasp, because it was the first space that we had seen that seemed like it could actually make sense. We could design it so it could house large musical ensembles and small groups; it could house theater classes, it could provide a space that would be an informal theater and quality performance space--all of those things.
So then it began to feel a little more real. Because the space was so large, much larger than anything else we had looked at, it was clear that we could start up some of the important new programming, and it became very clear that we could include a number of other organizations.
And that whole process, I feel, is a tribute to Elizabeth Meyer, who was critical to the development of the vision for this place, not just in terms of the collaboration between MYSO and First Stage, but also in recognizing the need to try to involve all genres of youth performing arts.
We wanted to include dance, we wanted to include vocal music, to try to pull in a lot of different stakeholders and organizations, and Elizabeth was also very instrumental in seeing the ultimate value of this city location, in terms of engaging under-served communities.
Those were the types of programs that I kind of had in the back of my mind that I really wanted to get going. We started up our Progressions program, which is a city-based string program for third and fourth grade students, very shortly before we moved in here, anticipating what was going to happen. We started up a jazz program, which had something of a focus on the city. And gradually we added others.
One consequence of being located here in the city was that we suddenly we had some “street cred,” that we weren’t just saying we wanted to serve diverse populations that were different from the stereotype that some folks had of MYSO, but that we really meant business.
The stereotype was something we really struggled with because we knew that MYSO was not exclusionary in any fashion; we had substantial scholarship funding and widespread recruiting. Diversity was there, but certainly not at the level that it should have been, largely due to the fact that kids from schools without strong arts programs and from backgrounds that don’t have the wherewithal to provide private music lessons are going to be at a distinct disadvantage in joining an audition-based program.
So we set about trying to change all of that, and to offer some training that would ratchet up the preparation for some promising kids without other opportunities, so they would ultimately be able to audition into MYSO. And that has absolutely happened. The numbers and the achievements of the kids are phenomenal.
Since so many wonderfully talented students visit the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center each day, we wanted to profile just a few of this artistic bunch. Our first student spotlight features Julia Simpson, a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra student from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
How many years have you been playing oboe? Violin?
I have played oboe for six years and violin for ten.
How many years have you been in MYSO?
I've been in MYSO for 7 years.
How has MYSO played a part in your musical career up to this point?
MYSO has given me so many amazing performance opportunities from side-by-sides with MSO musicians, concerto competitions, chamber ensembles, our upcoming tour to Vienna and Budapest, master classes, and (my favorite part of MYSO) Chamber Orchestra. But most importantly, MYSO has showed me how much fun it is to play! Without MYSO, I wouldn't love playing my instruments as much as I do.
My favorite part of playing an instrument is all of the amazing opportunities I have been able to take part in and all of the fantastic people I have met along the way! Though learning and performing the music is always exciting, the experiences around it all has been such an amazing adventure for me.
How often do you come to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center?
I am at the Youth Arts Center about 3 days a week. I play in MYSO's Senior Symphony on Monday, the Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday, and rehearse with my Davidson Chamber Ensemble quintet, "Off Topic," on the weekends. When concert times are approaching, I can be there anywhere from 4 to 6 days a week!
What's your experience at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center been like?
My experience at MYAC has always been wonderful. The rehearsal rooms are state-of-the-art and the lobby is as equally great for relaxing and talking to friends during breaks. Seeing the arts at work, all in one building, has always been such an inspiring experience for me. MYAC is like a second home to me!
What's your favorite memory related to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center?
In February, my school band, the Oconomowoc High School Wind Symphony, used Youth Arts Hall to make recordings to send to the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. Everyone was in awe at how amazing the building was, and I realized how lucky I am to get to play in there every week! It was also fun to give everyone tours of the building.
Has the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center impacted you in any way?
Having such a high quality facility to rehearse in has helped my playing immensely. Using Youth Arts Hall and the other rooms, I have been able to prepare myself to play in venues like the Marcus Center, Shattuck Auditorium, and the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. MYAC has also provided the space for me to connect with the MYSO program. The friendships and memories I have made at MYAC will stay with me forever!