“Close your eyes and see what the music has to say to you,” whispers Susanna Gaunt, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra horn section, to a squirrelly group of first-grade students at Ella Flagg Young Elementary School in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. With that, the three horn players and tubist put their lips to their mouthpieces and a gentle lullaby floats over the classroom. The performance is one of a series offered this fall at Young School and also at Henry Longfellow Elementary in the nearby suburb of Oak Park.
Gaunt’s project is one among several supported by the CSO’s Citizen Musician Initiative. Consisting of Gaunt, fellow section member Daniel Gingrich, and spouses Matthew and Mary, the quartet aims to introduce young people to the excitement of live classical music and encourage curiosity and appreciation at an early age. The quartet hopes to be in residence at the two schools over the course of many years, continuing relationships with their current classrooms while also greeting new students as they enter in kindergarten.
The Mirror Quartet’s second goal is to connect Austin and Oak Park, two neighboring communities deeply divided by demographics. Church and civic leaders, social service providers, and the non-profit community address this challenge through the services they provide to both communities as well as through community meetings, like a recent event hosted by the Community of Congregations that urged attendees to “see Austin Boulevard as a meeting place, not a dividing line.”
As active Oak Park residents, Susanna and Matthew crafted their own response to this challenge as musicians. The presentations take a message of friendship and collaboration straight to students, highlighting the joy of making music with friends, and the fact that social divisions needn’t come into play when playing music together. When the tuba asks to join the three horns in beautiful harmony, Susanna turns to the students and wonders, “Should we let him join us, even though he’s different?” The eager and powerful chorus of “yes!” that greets the musicians is a truly special moment to behold.