From the Executive Director
During this very unusual time in the world’s and SYSO’s history, we know that it is more important than ever to communicate clearly about our work through all available channels.
Therefore, we are launching SYSO’s Leadership Letter, an email newsletter arriving every 6 to 8 weeks that will highlight how we achieve SYSO’s mission of harnessing the power of education to provide young musicians pathways to artistic excellence, intellectual development and social/emotional growth. We’ll share with you perspectives from our Music Director Juan Felipe Molano, SYSO board, staff, students, alumni and community.
In this first edition, we’ll provide a high-level overview of SYSO and its programs. You may have experienced SYSO many years ago as an alumnus or perhaps you have a child participating in one of our programs and would like to learn more about what else SYSO does in the community. The Leadership Letter will cover these and many other aspects of SYSO.
Thank you for reading and we always welcome feedback.
From the Board President
It is my pleasure to join Kathleen in welcoming you to this introductory SYSO Leadership Letter. We look forward to sharing insights into all SYSO’s programs. SYSO has been important to me and my family since our daughters first joined over 25 years ago. The dedication and joy they shared in the orchestras shaped them and thrilled us. We’ve attended each season since, marveling at each year’s new students’ outstanding performances. SYSO’s commitment to offering that experience to Seattle youth is a community treasure. All of us are grateful for your association with and support for the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.
President, SYSO Board of Directors
What Does SYSO Do?
That seems like a simple question. One might think that the answer is produce a performing ensemble of some of the most accomplished young orchestral musicians in the region. While this definition of SYSO is definitely true, SYSO includes multiple types of programs that impact young people from ages 6-26. In many cases, SYSO is the organization that they and their families will be connected to longer than any other educational institution in their lives.
If you have learned to play an instrument, then you know that many musical and non-musical benefits are provided in that experience. Building skills such as focus, perseverance, teamwork and personal responsibility will carry on into many other aspects of a young person’s life. At SYSO we believe that those benefits do not belong to only a privileged few but should be accessible to any aspiring young musician. That is why over the last several years, SYSO has both expanded programs and deepened its partnerships with public schools and other arts organizations committed to enhancing equitable access to music education. Below, I have highlighted our school partnerships and in future editions of the Leadership Letter we will feature some of the other aspects of SYSO.
SYSO in the Schools (established 1990)
Endangered Instruments Program (EIP) – For more than 25 years SYSO has partnered with public school music teachers to help students study less commonly played (“endangered”) instruments, which helps diversify the instrumentation of the school orchestras while at the same time nurturing students to advance to one of SYSO’s Academic Year Orchestra programs.
Musical Pathways Project (MPP) – Begun in 2008 in partnership with Seattle Public Schools, SYSO has worked closely with teachers, principals and district administrators to identify communities that have historically had the least amount of access to arts education due to economic barriers. SYSO coaches work in the schools to help strengthen the capacity of the faculty and directly support the students in order to help create a strong baseline of music education for generations of students.
Cadenza After School Orchestra Club and Southeast Ensemble – In addition to supporting the school-day music programs, SYSO provides additional opportunities for music study and practice outside of school time. Instrumental music students from the elementary schools in the MPP communities participate in an after school orchestra club that provides an additional 2 hours of weekly instruction to get them excited about continuing to play music into middle school and beyond.
In 2020-2021, SYSO will establish the Southeast Ensemble which will be an after school performing orchestra for middle and high schools students from around the region, enabling them to take the next step in the pursuit of music and provide the educational benefits of performing publicly. The Southeast Ensemble will be the next step in a young musician’s path in the youth orchestra experience and plans are to embed into this program all the necessary supports to help a young person advance musically.
How do we do what we do?
For more than 75 years, SYSO has been deeply rooted in the community. From these roots it has branched out in many different directions that all stem from the belief that music education is core to a young person’s development and that the benefits of music should be accessible to as many students as possible.
It takes multiple resources and partnerships to execute the services we provide to families, young musicians, alumni, educators and concert patrons.
Financially, SYSO is like many educational performing arts non-profits in that we rely on earned revenue through program tuition payments and concert ticket sales. In fact, tuition makes up approximately 60% of our overall revenue. Yet, as a non-profit, we also depend on the generosity of supporters who understand the inherent value of a high-quality music education. We receive individual donations from parents, community supporters and alumni, as well as grants from private foundations, government agencies, and corporations. Most grants are restricted funding, with 69% being designated to our SYSO in the Schools programs.
This year, due to the impacts of the pandemic, when SYSO can safely resume in-person rehearsals and performances, we anticipate we will need to continue to abide by social distancing measures. This will limit the number of students we can gather, thereby limiting the numbers of students who will enroll and pay tuition. We anticipate our annual operating budget will shrink by as much as 66%.
We are also very aware of the significant impacts that COVID-19 is having on our economy and the financial hardship families may be experiencing as a result. We are committed to continuing and expanding funds towards financial aid, which is currently 10% of our budget.
How Is SYSO Adapting?
When we knew we would not be able to operate our summer camps in person for the first time in 27 years, we felt a great sense of loss. SYSO Summer Music (formerly Marrowstone-in-the-City or MITC) blended the rigor of learning to play in a full orchestra with the fun of summer camp – making new friends, playing games, and telling jokes. How could we replicate this in the online environment, now necessary due to COVID-19? Not wanting to lose this great summer tradition, SYSO staff and faculty quickly put together SYSO Summer Music Virtual Edition which had 85 students participating, including some from Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. The end product of this fun week together was a multi-level arrangement of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Number 5.
And what did the participants, both students and parents, have to say about this unique week?
- “My daughter enjoyed this so much! It was great to see her excited and interacting with the intern.”
- “I think you did a great job of balancing fun activities with musical instruction over the internet. Not easy! Bravo!”
- “My child really loved practice time with the interns. It was her favorite part of the day!”
- “There were the same activities we usually do at physical camp and they were nearly just as fun! Thanks for planning such great activities!”
- “I wish there was more than one session!”
We are now preparing to take our academic year orchestra program online by providing a Virtual Orchestra Program that will incorporate many of the lessons learned from our first virtual summer camp. We’ll be sharing more about that in future issues of the Leadership Letter.
We were able to sustain activities through summer in great part due to generous COVID-19 Relief funds provided by local governmental and private foundations. We greatly appreciate the support of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, King County 4Culture, and ArtsFund for their generosity and leadership during this very challenging time for many arts organizations.
What More Can We Do?
As noted above, we are all leaders in our efforts to advance orchestral music education. In my role as Executive Director, I know that even though SYSO has a long and esteemed history, it is never appropriate to “rest on our laurels.” The pandemic and the increased reckoning of systemic racial injustice has marked a new era for our country and this is true for individual organizations as well.
SYSO will use this watershed moment to reflect on how we can continue what we have done well in the past, but also examine what we can do better in the future, especially in relation to making our programs more diverse, equitable, accessible, welcoming, and always at the highest level of music education excellence. Future editions of the Leadership Letter will focus on sharing SYSO’s emerging Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts at all levels of our organization.
I will be very honest that SYSO’s 2020-2021 Season will be different and, at times, difficult. Over the last three years I have been working very closely with our board of directors to shore up SYSO’s operations and finances so that we could be on steady footing in case of emergency. To do this, we’ve been building up our cash reserve while also bringing on a new music director and reviewing and re-envisioning several of our programs. However, most of us did not anticipate that an emergency the scale of a global pandemic would happen this year. I know we can get through this and use it as a growth opportunity, but we will need your support. Your support can come in many forms and my virtual door is always open to receive feedback. Make a donation online today. Any amount is appreciated.
The Future Never Sounded Better is our tagline. Lately, I have hesitated to put that out there because we have many challenges ahead in our future, but I realize the future doesn’t mean just this year. Our future is also the 2021-2022 season, it is the next 75 years, but most of all, our “future” is all the incredibly dedicated, inspiring young people who we are helping to become well-rounded and engaged citizens and artists. Because you are there to support them, we can confidently say that the Future Will Sound Better!