St. Louis is a hotbed of musical talent. These local organizations nurture and educate young performers, giving them the skills and resources every musician--amateurs and professionals alike--needs.
Community Music School of Webster University
The Community Music School of Webster University helps student musicians of all ages and abilities fine-tune their skills.
Almost 90 years ago, music teacher Edna Lieber started giving piano lessons in her home, says current director Carol Commerford. St. Louis Symphony musicians served as teachers, helping the program grow. In 1974, the Music School merged with the Saint Louis Conservatory and Schools for the Arts (CASA). Though CASA closed 15 years later, the Music School continued operating. Today, the school has more than 2,000 students; Commerford estimates the school has instructed more than 100,000 students since its inception.
The Music School offers music education and performance opportunities for students from pre-school age through adulthood, Kindermusik through preparatory program. Students can take individual lessons for any orchestral instrument, as well as piano, guitar and voice lessons. They also can perform in recitals, for which the Music School provides accompaniment. The program offers need-based and merit scholarships, in addition to an endangered instrument award.
“It’s to encourage students to think about playing instruments that aren’t the first that come to mind,” Commerford says. “If a student dabbles in, say, viola, it makes them more diverse in what they’re able to offer, and opportunities for that student will double.”
Though students don’t receive degrees from the Music School, they do get something they might not find elsewhere: community. “People are here because they want to be a part of a community of music,” Commerford says. “If they go to lessons in someone’s home, all they see is their teacher. When they come to the Community Music School, they get to hear an orchestra rehearsing, or see chamber music or be in a jazz band.”
Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation
When the curtain goes up on young St. Louis performers, the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation makes sure they’re ready for their cue.
Mary Strauss, president of the Foundation’s board of directors, says the organization started as a way to give grants to local performance arts groups. As the Foundation grew, it began its own projects. Today, it provides fewer grants, but sponsors programs that “foster and encourage participation in and wonder of live performance.”
One of the Foundation’s most popular programs is Kids’ Night at the Fox, in which kids get in free—with an adult ticket—to a touring Broadway show. Kids can enjoy interactive activities throughout the building, giving them an inside look at the show and the Fox. Last year’s show, Beauty and the Beast, sold out. The Foundation also offers master classes taught by performers in touring shows. Hosted by COCA or STAGES St. Louis for a “very low fee,” Strauss says students get to learn a song or dance, as well as participate in a Q&A with the performers. “They get to ask How did you get into show business? and How long did it take? And the professionals love it because they like to help other young aspiring actors and dancers.”
Four years ago, the Foundation introduced the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition, giving young entertainers a chance to win scholarships and perform on the Fox stage. Strauss says she created the contest because she was tired of seeing only student athletes get recognition. The free competition invites high school students within a 50-mile radius to audition a variety of talents, from singers and dancers to aerialists and clowns. Last year, more than 225 students registered. The Foundation offers classes to help students prepare for auditions, and provides coaching—and even costumes—for the 10 to 12 performers who make it to the finals. Winners receive scholarships and awards
“The finals are April 4 at the Fox, and it’s free and open to the public,” Strauss says. “I invite all of St. Louis to come and look at our young talent. Let’s applaud them and encourage them, and see where they go.”
St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra
Although the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra is, of course, for St. Louis youth, these performers aren’t ‘kid’ding around.
Young musicians ages 12 through 22 from around the bi-state area can audition for the orchestra, which is comprised of approximately 100 students. Prospective members undergo the same audition process as professional musicians vying for the Saint Louis Symphony, performing alone behind the closed curtain onstage at Powell Hall. The floor of the stage is even carpeted so that judges can’t hear what type of shoes the musicians have on, says Youth Orchestra manager Jessica Ingraham.
Weekly rehearsals are divided into two sections. First, they have ‘beyond rehearsal’ which Ingraham says can range from sectional coaching and master classes to performances from guest artists and question-and-answer sessions. In the second half of rehearsal, the full orchestra rehearses onstage at Powell Hall for its three annual concerts. Ingraham says that one of the most remarkable opportunities the Youth Orchestra provides is the chance to play with professional symphony musicians in a side-by-side rehearsal, where each youth orchestra member is paired with a symphony member to as the two groups rehearse as one orchestra.
The education provided by the youth orchestra doesn’t stop at sheet music and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Youth orchestra members team up with the Symphony’s marketing and public relations team to raise money and do marketing for events.
“We educate the whole musician,” Ingraham says. “The philosophy is not just ‘Show up on stage, play concert, go home.’ As a musician, you have to have a variety of different skills. Not all of our young musicians are going to be professional musicians when they grow up, so we also focus on skills that they’ll be able to use in their every day lives and careers.”
Opera Theatre Young Artists-in-Training
The Opera Theatre’s Young Artists-in-Training program helps talented St. Louis students hit the high notes and prepare for a great second act.
Allison Felter, director of education and community engagement, says that the program began in St. Louis Public Schools to nurture the raw talent of students with untapped talent. The program provides college-level voice lessons for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Participants receive weekly voice lessons from local opera professionals at four area universities. By working with only about 20 students each year, Felter says each participant is able to go more in-depth with their study.
A primary goal of Artists-in-Training is preparing its students for college. Artists-in-Training sponsors an annual college tour, visiting music departments at schools around the Midwest. “We’re helping students who may be the first ones in their family going to college, get a first-hand experience, and giving them a baseline to determine where they would like to apply and go to,” Felter says. Students also can spend time with visiting artists in residence at local universities or conservatories, through private lessons and master classes. Felter says these professionals often use this time as a way to scout and recruit potential students.
Each year at the organization’s spring recital, the program awards approximately $12,000 in scholarships. In its 24 years, the program has awarded almost $400,000 in scholarships. Alumni as old as 26 also can come back to audition for more scholarship money. “We have kids in college as a result of all this,” Felter says. “It’s a real privilege to assist in that way.”