Every season, the Negaunee Music Institute connects people across Chicago and around the world to the musical resources of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Katy Clusen, a former music teacher, witnessed one special connection when her second-grade students fell in love with Stravinsky’s The Firebird through studying a Negaunee Music Institute curriculum guide and then attending a CSO School Concert. For Clusen, this experience inspired a career change. Now as manager of school and family programs for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, she seeks to “help bring the magic of orchestral music to the lives of all of our city’s children.”

How long have you been working for the CSOA?

I have been working for the CSOA since June 24, 2012. Eight years.

Could you describe your job duties as manager of school and family programs?

Simply put, my job duties require me to connect the orchestra to children and the adults in their lives. More specifically, I work with teachers and students in Chicago Public Schools, overseeing the work by participants and other program staff in the CSO-Connect Curriculum School Partnership Program. I also write content for KidsBook and The Beat (student guides for School and Family concerts), and manage the creation of the Teacher’s Guide (in-depth lessons tied to concert repertoire) for each CSO School Concert. Additionally, I serve as a resource for Once Upon a Symphony, and am the Negaunee Music Institute liaison to the CSO docent program and the Adventures in Music program, which are both programs of the League of the CSOA.

What was your career path before your current position? What led you to the CSO?

Prior to my current position, I was a teacher for 22 years. My first job was as a fourth-grade teacher at a Catholic grade school in Chicago in the Little Village neighborhood. Two years later, I moved back to my hometown, Aurora, Ill., and taught fourth grade at O’Donnell Elementary School in District 131. After teaching there for three years, my path led me back into Chicago, where I taught at Arthur Ashe Elementary School, in the Chatham neighborhood, and then at Horace Mann Elementary School, in the South Shore neighborhood. While at Mann School, I had the pleasure of becoming the music teacher to 1,100 students. Because I was the only arts educator at the school during my 11 years in this position, this was the start of my journey as an advocate for arts education in under-resourced areas of our city.

One day, I received an email from the CSO introducing the curriculum guide created by the Negaunee Music Institute called Orchestra Explorers. The first set of materials featured Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird. This incredible piece of music and magical story completely captured the imagination of my second-grade music students. When I shared this story with Jon Weber, director of school and family programs, he gave me and my students tickets to see and hear the orchestra perform this piece.

We were assigned seats in the Terrace [the seating area above the stage], and as we entered the space, my students peered over the railing and exclaimed, “There’s Patsy Dash and there’s Jennifer Gunn!” (These two musicians appear often in this curriculum, and by the time we came to the concert, they were like old friends.) My students were so moved by this piece of music, that at the end of that hopeful final movement, they gave the orchestra a standing ovation. It was at that moment that I wondered if I could be a part of the CSOA and help bring the magic of orchestral music to the lives of all of our city’s children. Two years later, I joined the CSOA.

Could you share your thoughts on the importance of arts-based education and community programs like those of the Negaunee Music Institute?

I think now more than ever, the work of the Negaunee Music Institute is needed in order to find common ground, celebrate our differences and create a more just and open society.

What’s one of the most rewarding parts of your job?

Watching children react as they listen to amazing performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and discover the power of orchestral music is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. As a music educator, I also find it very rewarding to work with and guide teachers in developing curriculum to bring orchestral music to life for their students.

Do you have a favorite memory from CSO School and Family concerts or other Negaunee Music Institute programs?

In addition to my memory of bringing my students to hear The Firebird, I also have fond memories of the Civic Orchestra performing the Bach Brandenburg Concertos all over the city during the Bach Marathon. Over the years, they’ve performed at schools, food pantries, senior-living facilities and Chicago’s Christkindlmarket. The culminating performance at Fourth Presbyterian Church, featuring all six of the concertos, is an event filled with pure joy.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

In my spare time, I sing and direct with a community choral group called Artemis Singers. I also find great joy in singing and dancing in the kitchen with my wife and 15-year-old daughter.

TOP: Manager of School and Family Programs Katy Clusen greets CSO-Connect students at Walt Disney Magnet School during a day of performances and mentoring organized by the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute. | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017