Late last year, I turned the corner from Gibbs Street and walked the few paces down East Ave to the old RPO office location for my interview to become an Education Intern. That’s when I first met the Director of Education, Barbara Brown. She explained to me her roles and responsibilities, as well as how the intern supports that work. I learned about the Primary, Intermediate, Tiny Tots, and OrKIDStra concerts, as well as the numerous committees she serves on. She shared her expectations and openly welcomed taking on different projects that met my goals. Barbara’s enthusiasm, warmth, and interest in supporting her interns was evident. Our meeting lasted less than a half-hour, but I left knowing this was the internship for me.
I should mention that before coming back to Eastman to complete a Master of Arts in Music Education, I had worked for 2.5 years in arts administration at the Mount Royal Conservatory in Calgary, Canada, my hometown. After leaving full-time work to continue my vocal studies, I had also spent some time performing, teaching voice, and working as a resident artist for the Calgary Board of Education. When I was deciding on graduate programs, I knew I wanted to research a growing interest of mine – music listening – in the context of professional performing arts organizations’ music outreach initiatives. How do we support learners interested in deepening their music listening skills, especially those in non-traditional music education settings, like music outreach and arts engagement? What are effective practices happening right now? What does it take to run an orchestra or opera company’s education department?
As you might be able to tell, I was ecstatic when I learned I would be interning for Barbara.
When I began my internship in mid-January, the Primary Concerts (two concerts for about 2,000 first through third graders each day) were only a few weeks away. I had experience writing lesson plans, and Barbara asked me to write one for the “One Musical Family”-themed concerts. Less than a week on the job, and already I had sent curricular materials to the scores of Rochester-area teachers that would shortly be sending their students to Kodak Hall.
Preparing the main concerts also includes drafting the Powerpoint slides which announce the musical pieces, as well as support the narrative spoken by the conductor. Working with guest conductor Christopher James Lees’ storyline, I drafted Powerpoint slides that connected the idea of our personal families with the families of orchestral instruments. Some slides from my first draft did not make the cut – the images I edited were not quite right, and a few photographs needed to have more diversity represented. That was the day I learned a fantastic lesson: as a supervisor, you can be cheerful, friendly, and supportive while still asking directly for better results that meet your vision and needs.
Fast forward to the day of the second concert. I had volunteered to be a lobby escort, had gone through volunteer training, and even attended a “key people meeting,” where representatives from parking, the city school district, volunteers, and the police department talked through the “show flow” for both concerts. But the best part was watching Barbara’s well-oiled machine spring to life. In roughly 45 minutes, hoards of young students had been directed to various entry points to the school, shuffled through the theatre (their jaws wide open, gazing at the chandelier), and settled into their seats as some of the musicians came around with a show-and-tell of their instruments. I snuck back to the audio booth, and alongside Barbara ran the slideshow, aiming to time the slides perfectly with the conductor’s speech and the musical pieces themselves. Barbara regularly receives comments from teachers on the professionalism of the concert experiences. Seeing what happens backstage to make it possible was another lesson I was so grateful to learn.
A few other fantastic moments from the internship included: sitting in on a programming meeting for the Intermediate Concert with guest conductor Herb Smith and VP Artistic Eric Gaston; helping with the kids’ arts and crafts table at the superhero-themed OrKIDStra concert at Hochstein, and building another lesson plan for the Intermediate Concert. These were peppered in with preparing other PowerPoint presentations – four separate ones for four Intermediate concerts that featured teacher-submitted student artwork on the theme of freedom, America, and voting. After all, the show was called “Get Out the Vote!” celebrating Susan B. Anthony’s contributions to the suffrage movement.
For readers familiar with the RPO’s recent history-making live-stream, you will know that the Intermediate Concerts did not take place as expected. Two days before the first concert, and one day before the dress rehearsal, the University of mandated that no gatherings on campus, more than 50 people would be allowed to take place. Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 were already starting to appear. Barbara and the RPO, aside from being in shock, had to recalibrate. On less than a day’s notice, they turned four in-person concerts for over 6,000 students into one live-streamed event – the first in the RPO’s history.
I should mention the extra cool fact that Barbara invited me to participate in the concert as a vocalist. Between orchestral excerpts, there was going to be an audience sing-along that she asked me to lead. My first real COVID-19 moment was sitting backstage at the live-stream, looking out onto the orchestra lit up on stage, but knowing the RPO was performing to an empty house. I listened, spellbound, as they played one of the most uplifting and uniting works in the American repertoire: Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. It felt already like a brave, new world.
If you were one of the thousands of students and dozens of teachers watching the live stream, then you’ll know the magnitude of that special event. I am honored to have been a part of it, and it marked the last work that I would do for Barbara, as campus shut down shortly afterward. Regretfully, interns cannot do work out-of-state, but I’m thrilled that when I returned home, Barbara accepted my offer of e-volunteering for her in the coming weeks. She is one of the most empowering bosses I have ever had. Between decorating my desk on my birthday, encouraging and guiding my ideas, and affirming my contributions while instilling a deep sense of professionalism, I could not have had a better mentor in my all-too-short time as an RPO Education volunteer.
Thank you, Barbara! Thank you, RPO!