“So use your wrist, no arm…” In Symphony Center’s Buntrock Hall, a seventh-grader instructs a television journalist on his marimba technique on camera. This past winter, the Percussion Scholarship Program, celebrating its 20th anniversary during the 2014/15 season, was featured on WCIU-TV’s show “You & Me This Morning.” The reporter asked seventh grader Angelica Lorenzo how she can perform at such a high level. Her response: “It definitely takes a lot of practice and a lot of self-confidence.”
Every weekend for the last 20 years, you could find Percussion Scholarship Program founders and directors CSO percussionist Patricia Dash and percussionist Douglas Waddell with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Grant Park Symphony, in the basement rehearsal rooms of Symphony Center, teaching their many students. Even after 20 years, both remain committed to training these young percussionists to perform at the highest level while also instilling values of cooperation and collaboration among the group. The values and practices of Citizen Musicianship that Dash and Waddell demonstrate – and impart on their students – emerge in the passionate and energetic recitals the PSP students perform at Symphony Center and around Chicago.
Launched in 1995, the Percussion Scholarship Program offers intensive, individual, weekly percussion instruction on a full scholarship basis. This year, PSP celebrates its 20th anniversary of providing the highest quality individual and ensemble percussion education to a diverse community of youths from across Chicago. With such rigorous training and excellent mentorship, PSP alumni can be found playing in orchestras and ensembles across the country and around the world. While not all PSP alumni pursue collegiate or professional positions in music, an astonishing 100 percent of PSP alumni have earned acceptance into college – and graduated from college – since the program was launched in 1995.
Year after year, PSP alumni return to the CSO to share their experiences with new program participants and their families. The deep impact of the program and the values it instills can be seen in students’ academic, personal and professional successes.
PSP alumni are unanimous in their praise of the program. “The Percussion Scholarship Group has shaped who I am today,” said Shuya Gong. “It is a remarkable program that I feel has not only taught me to find a passion for music, but to find a passion for everything that I do. Because it is set up as a mentoring program, I have had the privilege of working with several people who have taught me lessons about life, commitment, dedication, and the value of hard work. PSP has given me the confidence to do things that I would have shied from in the past. It taught me leadership qualities and the importance of hard work. If I had a goal, I could achieve it.”
Andre Battles, another PSP alum, added: “The group has opened me up to many opportunities such as playing with Yo-Yo Ma, playing on several different radio stations, playing on Armour Stage [in Orchestra Hall], going to several different summer camps, and being a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The group has changed me completely for the better and has opened me up to a very bright, successful future.”
Marcelina Suchocka, PSP alumna, insists that she owes everything to her amazing teachers. “The Percussion Scholarship Group has been the most influential part of my life. As a member of the group, I had two incredible teachers that inspired me with their playing and kind and generous personalities. Because of my strong fundamental training, I continued on to succeed in various competitions. I was the first-place winner of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Concerto Competition, and the winner of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Artist Award, a $10,000 grant. I also won [NPR Radio’s] ‘From the Top’s’ Big Break competition, which resulted in a performance at Carnegie Hall! [My teachers] truly have shaped my lives and made me the individual and player that I am today!”
As an ensemble, the Percussion Scholarship Group has had numerous compositions arranged especially for them by nationally known artists. The group has performed at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, performs twice annually at Symphony Center, and has appeared at DePaul University, the Chicago Cultural Center, on TV stations WTTW, WCIU and WGN and on radio on WFMT-FM. They’ve also appeared as soloists with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of CSO Youth Concerts, Family Matinee Series, and Welcome Yule! concerts. During the program’s 2014/15 20th anniversary season, PSP students also are performing for Chicago Public School students as part of the Chicago Youth in Music Festival, the CSO’s biennial celebration of young musicianship.
Perhaps the most unique component of PSP is the requirement of family involvement. Not only are parents or guardians interviewed as part of the student audition process, but parent/guardian engagement is required at some PSP rehearsals and performances. Students are expected to complete a regimen of daily practice in addition to a weekly group lesson. This structure, supported by families and PSP mentors, builds a foundation for students’ future discipline and achievement.
Today, perhaps more than ever, a very limited number of opportunities exist for children in Chicago to receive comprehensive music training. Comprehensive and transformational arts learning experiences, as well as the presence of dedicated arts faculty in Chicago Public Schools, are extremely limited and unevenly distributed across Chicago communities. Very few programs are able to provide instruments and music lessons to students for free, and even fewer programs provide a pre-professional level of training led by master artists. Exacerbating this situation is the economic status of the majority of CPS students; more than 80 percent of children attending a Chicago Public School come from a low-income home.
As Citizen Musicians, Dash and Waddell help enable these young people to experience the transformative power of music. As mentors, they instill the values of discipline, creativity, cooperation and communication in their students. Through the values of Citizen Musicianship, these young musicians are motivated to share their time and talent with concert audiences, neighborhood communities and other young musicians across Chicago.
Earlier this year, Judy and Joe Konen, who have supported PSP for many years, shared their love of this program with the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute, formerly known as the Institute for Learning, Access and Training. “The instruments are just exciting. They’re so appealing to kids and the kid in all of us! It’s just inspiring. You truly see children who would not necessarily have had these opportunities otherwise. We hope this program can serve as a model, demonstrating the incredible power of music education and exciting, innovative ways to effectively engage young people.”