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In the fall of 2015, the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched two exciting new partnership programs for Chicago Public Schools: an in-school residency program, and a teacher professional development and curriculum building community. On this page, you will find more information about the collaborative work with the Civic Orchestra Fellows in year two of the curriculum program. To learn more about the program on Sounds & Stories, please click here.

At the beginning of March, teams of musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago Fellowship program visited all five CSO-Connect curriculum partner schools. They collaborated with students on a music composition project that focused on the program’s main idea of courage. The project specifically examined the literary life of Don Quixote, which was written by Cervantes and scored by Richard Strauss. With guidance from the Civic Fellows, students were able to explore the many exciting ways in which musical elements could enhance the intentions of their music compositions. This collaborative process will be showcased at the Connect culminating event in early May, where the fellows will join the students to perform these original compositions. Following each performance, a Q&A will explore the collaborative process undertaken to create each piece of music.

Below are reflections by students and teachers about this collaborative music composition activity.

“Working with the Civic Fellows has been truly wonderful. It really takes the Connect partnership to the next level, both for myself and the students. Including an outside partner in the final product, and the composition process, increases everyone’s sense of responsibility and ownership of the product. It was clear during the two sessions that the students were proud to present their poems to the musicians, and that the musicians were visibly impressed with what the students had done so far. I was impressed with Corin, Midori, and Maria’s ability to jump right in and begin supporting the students in their work.”

Nicholas Hall
Music teacher
Agassiz School


“Working with a professional musician was amazing. When I say “amazing,” I mean amazing! Their feedback was so useful and smart; it was like working with a celebrity or a first-class manager. I really loved the tips they gave us to put in our poem.”

(Amatheyse – 8th grade Agassiz School)

“I think that working with musicians who are professional, kind of gave me a sense of determination to perfect the project and it made me think harder.”

(Victoria – 8th grade Agassiz School)

Working with a professional musician was inspirational and the French horn added power and emotions to our poem.

(Nina – 8th grade Agassiz School)


“Soo-Young Kim came to Swift to visit with my students twice in the last two weeks. The students are in the final editing phase of writing a theme and variations composition, based on a character who displays courage from a novel they are reading in Language Arts class. She went from group to group listening to their compositions and offering suggestions. The students recognized her from the Civic Ensemble performance and pretty much gave her celebrity status. The groups she worked with took all of her suggestions and applied them to their compositions. The results were remarkable. Her simple ideas about tempo, dynamics, and timbre made the students work deeper, more musically, and helped them understand that musical ideas are always changing. Composers don’t just write a “loud song,” there is nuance. She even found ways to reference their shared experience with Don Quixote. Having a special professional musician guest gave our simple project a seriousness and a real-life quality that elevated it to a more artistic place. We were really excited and grateful for her help.”

Angela Maniaci
Music teacher
Swift Elementary School


“Tara Lynn and Kenji were wonderful!  They had a great rapport with our Clinton students.  (They feel like old friends at this point.)  The students were amazed at how the motifs that they had composed themselves were transformed into something that sounded like professional work.  They felt like real composers (which, of course, they are!).  In this case, the product and the process were in sync and were equally rewarding parts of the experience.  We are super excited about next steps.  Thanks for this opportunity!”


Ellen Oberto
Music teacher
Clinton Elementary School


“Our students were completely fascinated with our visit by Kip, Gordon, and Joe. At the beginning of the lesson, students explored themes of each of the three main characters from Don Quixote with the musicians. It was astounding to see the students interact with the musicians by having a discussion with them on how they could alter a theme to get a different “feel” for the identity of a character. Students heard how changing the rhythm, the instrumentation, the pitch, and even the articulation can dramatically change how you identify with a character. For the main portion of the lesson, students created their own four measure theme to identify themselves. Bold, Dynamic, Scared, Intelligent, Fearful, Bright, and Brave were just some of the words students used to describe their identities. The musicians then interacted with the students to help them establish clear and meaningful themes that portrayed themselves. How wonderful to see a student create their own theme and then work with a musician who can play their composition immediately! The musicians were able to set rhythms, define pitches, and also expand the students’ vocabulary to allow them to creatively alter their compositions. At the end of the lesson, students were given a theme that we will work on during the fellows’ next visit and then present to our school community. “

Jason Fahrenbach
Music teacher
Disney Magnet School

“Today, Kristin, Matt and Evan, fellows from the Civic Orchestra, visited my students during the beginning stages of their songwriting projects. At this point, students were asked to choose chords that would best illustrate the emotional content of their lyrics. The fellows were quite helpful making sure that each group of students understood the difference between major and minor chords, and how these chords can represent expressions of different emotions. Aided by the fellows, my students are now empowered to continue on their songwriting journey.  “


Chris Dixon
Music teacher
Edwards Elementary School