Marin Alsop: A brava! Interview with Teaching Music
This article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Teaching Music.
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Conductor Marin Alsop is recognized throughout the world for her innovative approach to programming music and her commitment to education and to the development of audiences of all ages. Her success as music director of the Baltimore and Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestras has been recognized by extensions to her tenure, until 2021 and 2019, respectively. Alsop has guest-conducted most of the world’s great orchestras and, in September 2013, made history as the first female conductor of the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms in London. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including many for her extensive recordings. As a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, she was awarded the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize and is the only conductor to date to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.
Could you tell us about your OrchKids program? One of my proudest achievements as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is the OrchKids program. We started with 30 first graders in 2008 and welcomed 1,200 kids in September 2015. OrchKids is an afterschool, intensive instrumental program that uses music as a vehicle for social change by creating opportunities and a climate of possibility for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods. Funded privately, it collaborates with several community partners, including the Baltimore City Public Schools, and provides music education, instruments, academic instruction, and meals, as well as performance and mentorship opportunities at no cost. My goal is for OrchKids to reach 10,000 kids, thereby impacting all 80,000 BCPSS children.
I absolutely knew that I wanted to become a conductor and never changed my mind!
You come from a musical family and began instrumental studies at a young age. What do you remember from your earliest days as a musician? I have my parents to thank for my first musical experience. My father, who was concertmaster of the New York City Ballet for 30 years, and my mother, who was a cellist with the orchestra, could never imagine a life for their child that was not filled with music! My first instrument was piano, which I started at a very early age, and then I started violin when I was five or six years old. At seven, I began studies at the Juilliard Pre-College Division and, when I was in my early teens, I studied classical guitar for a few years. My father took me to hear Leonard Bernstein conducting a Young People’s concert when I was nine or ten years old, and that was it for me! I absolutely knew that I wanted to become a conductor and never changed my mind!
Why do you think music education is important? I personally know the transformative power of music. By providing a strong foundation and developing the whole individual, we can position students for lifelong success—success not limited to music, but applicable to all areas of their lives.
There is no greater privilege than being able to share the joy of music-making with young people.
Do you have any words of encouragement for music educators? I never really set out to be a music educator but have always been motivated by a strong desire to share my love of music with as many people as possible. I grew up with tremendous advantages because my parents gave me the gift of music and playing an instrument. Every child should have the same opportunity that I was given: to express themselves and feel the self-esteem that comes from mastering a phrase of music. After seeing the transformative effect music has had on the kids in our OrchKids program, I am thrilled to call myself a music educator. There is no greater privilege than being able to share the joy of music-making with young people.
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