As part of the 2013 Chicago Youth in Music Festival, Chicago high school musicians took part in rehearsals, coaching sessions, and performance events alongside members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and YOA Orchestra of the Americas. While participation in the festival was a remarkable training opportunity for talented young musicians to hone their instrumental skills, some of the most important lessons were about the value of collaboration.

A group of five students were also selected to be Festival student ambassadors, shadowing YOA members throughout their Chicago residency. Student ambassadors had a chance to observe a full orchestra rehearsal with Civic and YOA, participate in the festival’s open reading session with esteemed conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, attend a special Citizen Musician workshop and facilitate discussion session with YOA members, and also share their experiences at each of the festival community events. Two of the student ambassadors were also selected to perform on the final festival event, a joint concert with the Civic Orchestra and visiting YOA members.

YOA members participating in the festival were also members of YOA’s Global Leaders Program, a yearlong leadership training fellowship intended to foster the skills needed to guide successful community-based music programs where participants act simultaneously as entrepreneurs, mentors, teachers, advocates, performers, administrators and fund-raisers. As members of the Leaders Program, YOA musicians had particularly inspirational stories about their own Citizen Musician work to share with the young high school ambassadors.

One ambassador was moved by hearing about a choir started by a YOA member when she was 17. “Today two students who started 10 years ago when they were 8 are now able to attend college, due in a very large part to the opportunities and support they received through the choir. This story and others really made it clear to me how much music can change lives,” said this ambassador. “This insight led me to realize how much more fulfilling music is when it is taken beyond this inward focus and used as a tool and language to enrich other people’s lives.”

The unique opportunity to connect with YOA members from across the Americas was also a rich experience for student ambassadors. “I met people from all over North and South America, Québec, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia and many other countries,” one ambassador said. “After all my experiences during the 2013 Youth in Music Festival, I realized that everyone valued making music and giving back to the community. Going into the community, crossing communities and building communities engaged people for various backgrounds and culture where music, classical music was the core attraction.”

For another ambassador, it was observing festival events in 2011 that inspired her interest in taking part in 2013. “Music brings people together and inspires one another. Throughout the week, I was in awe to see such diversity amongst the musicians and to hear so many different languages spoken in one place. It is opportunities like the festival that people can transcend boundaries to come together.”

For many of these musicians, the opportunity to meet young musicians and coach beginning students from community music schools in the city offered yet another perspective on the life of an artist engaged in the civic and cultural life in his or her community. “Since my country is in the planning stages for the development of a system of youth orchestras, this mission was especially relevant,” said one YOA member. “The discussion workshops helped to improve my understanding of what the necessary steps we need to take in order to achieve this dream.”

The concept of Citizen Musician carried strong resonance for all YOA members, who participate in or develop their own community-based projects in their home countries or through residencies with YOA. For some, it represented efforts to create “socially conscious musicians,” while others commented on the value to musicians and communities by “of taking concerts out of theaters and playing them in areas that are closer to the people and where they are easier for audiences to access.”

As musicians early in their professional careers, YOA members also grappled with their roles as teachers and performers while they are also still students, perfecting their technique as they audition for professional orchestras and expanding their training as musical and social leaders of tomorrow. Along with musicians of the Civic Orchestra, they are setting out on a professional path that diverges into many possibilities, both traditional and still emerging. Recognizing the unique opportunity that both Civic and YOA offer to young musicians, on YOA member reflected that the “Civic Orchestra program is one that should be imitated by many of our countries, because a youth orchestra that prepares young professionals for the challenges of a professional career in music is really the missing link in a chain that guides these musicians to success in their respective instruments.”

Another YOA member reflected that “what I most enjoyed from this mission was the opportunity to learn more about an institution that worries not only about maintaining ideal conditions for its musicians and that they music they produce is excellent, but also worries about democratizing music, taking it to schools and communities that further inspire it to keep building new socially conscious programs. I enjoyed seeing how out colleagues from Civic live music, how they are in constant contact with one of the premier orchestras in the words, and how through programs like Citizen Musician, this institution is producing great musicians, but also human beings with greater social consciousness and better values.”

In a beautiful message of Citizen Musicianship, one musician offered his perspective that “besides focusing on good fundamental techniques and musical training, young students should come to understand the joy and privilege it is to be involved in the world of music. As a result, these children will develop a love for music and will be able to express their ideas, without fear or prejudice, through their instruments. These young people must understand that they play a fundamental role in society and that in the not so distant future they will be responsible for spreading the message of music in their communities.”