MN Sinfonia offers free concert, student outreach in Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- With the support of a generous arts learning grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Sinfonia will visit Worthington next week.

WORTHINGTON - With the support of a generous arts learning grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Sinfonia will visit Worthington next week.


The 25-member professional orchestra’s Worthington residency, which focuses on outreach via classical music to public school students, culminates with a 2 p.m. concert next Saturday (April 7) at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center that is free and open to all.


“What the music teachers have done in a community this size is nothing short of extraordinary,” endorsed Jay Fishman, conductor and artistic/executive director of Minnesota Sinfonia (MNS).



“When we first came in February to spend time in the Worthington public schools, it completely blew my mind; we were so impressed, and the excitement and enthusiasm of the students and people I’ve talked to is thrilling.”


Fishman, in possession of distinguished credentials from the University of Minnesota and Indiana University, plus stints with such renowned professionals as Sir Neville Mariner of London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, is a spirited promoter of the windows music opens for children - and indeed, for people of all ages.


“When I was growing up, my family had little money but both my parents were musicians so we had music in the house all the time,” said Fishman. “I had no idea how important that was, nor any idea that everyone didn’t have access to that.”


As Fishman’s education and career evolved into his role as a conductor, he retained the “giving back” attitude of community service with which he was raised. Even as Fishman guided elegantly dressed string ensembles in performances before well-heeled audiences, he never lost sight of a core mission.



“Music is how we make our living,” he said of his MNS instrumentalists. “We are not volunteering, and our players are remarkably good and skilled.”


But when Fishman founded MNS in 1989, the first program he added was “Music in the Schools.”


“We went to inner city public schools, figuring that if we could take an orchestra there and tie it all to academics by demonstrating how music helps teachers teach, we’d have something rather special,” he explained.


That first year, MNS visited two schools; this past year, the group will touch more than 12,000 students in its visits to 17 Twin Cities-area schools and three in Greater Minnesota - Faribault, Cokato and, fortuitously, Worthington.



“We have nearly 350 students enrolled in our orchestra programs,” said Melanie Loy, ISD 518’s lead orchestra instructor and the director of the Worthington High School (WHS) and Prairie Elementary orchestras.


“With our notable diversity, a large number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches and a high level of interest in music, our community fits the type of profile Jay [Fishman] and MNS like to serve.”


Fishman and MNS concertmaster Julia Persitz spent a February week in Worthington, working with 24 select members of the 75-musician WHS orchestra, as well as with nearly 90 fourth-grade singers at Prairie Elementary.

That elementary choir, as well as what Loy is calling an “honors orchestra,” will have the privilege of performing with MNS in the coming days - in two concerts at Prairie Elementary (Friday at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.) and at Memorial Auditorium at 2 p.m. Saturday.


Preceding those performances, Fishman and Persitz will rehearse the students, with the full orchestra in town on Friday and Saturday.

Loy, who credits her Prairie Elementary music colleagues Debra Moe, Taylor Huwe and Linda Van Westen for preparing the elementary vocalists, is delighted at the prospect.


“For the high school students involved, this is almost like a one-on-one coaching session with them and a professional musician,” said Loy.


“To have a professional player beside them, hearing the sound they create, watching their fingers in action, will be like a college-level master class experience that is sure to improve the delivery of their music.”


At Saturday afternoon’s concert, the WHS students will take the lead on the performance of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.”


“To be doing the complete work - it takes about 10 minutes to perform - is very nice,” said Loy, noting the Bach standard involves 10 instrumental parts (as opposed to the more common five parts for a high school ensemble).


Loy is pleased her students will benefit from Fishman and Persitz’s instruction this week.


“They will get tips and suggestions on technique, interpretation, intonation and rhythms,” she listed. “Jay is funny and upbeat with students, and he has a delightful personality.


“He wants excellence, and he’s not afraid to ask for that in order to get good results from the kids in a positive way.”


Both Loy and Tammy Makram, executive director of MAPAC, can’t say enough about what a meaningful opportunity the MNS residency is for Worthington.


“The fact that Saturday’s concert is free has nothing to do with the performance level and everything to do with the sizeable grant that’s making all of this possible,” said Makram.


“This is a group of amazing musicians who come from all over the world, but it’s their mission to reach out to students and communities that don’t always have access to music of this caliber.


“They want it to be accessible to everyone.”


MNS has served more than 150,000 Minnesota students since 1989, tailoring its “Music in the Schools” program to Minnesota state academic standards and tying classical music themes into lessons involving science, history, social studies, literature and more.


“We show the relationship between music and everything else, and talk at length about the value of classical music in educating students,” affirmed Fishman.


“When playing an instrument, a person uses every part of the intellect - brain, eyes, motor coordination - it’s quite an amazing feat, really, and music is a part of everything in our world.”


Fishman has crafted a program that, besides the Bach concerto, includes Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown from Rodeo,” Edwin Elgar’s “Nimrod from The Enigma Variations,” a Haydn symphony and “Ancient Airs and Dances Suite 1” by Respighi.


“We love to tour, even though most orchestras don’t, and this is being done just right,” said Fishman of this week’s residency and concerts.


“To have the community so excited about the undertaking is contagious - and it will be absolutely terrific.”


A free concert of the Minnesota Sinfonia and WHS select orchestra students takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 1 p.m. for general seating. The concert is open to all. On Friday, Minnesota Sinfonia shares two concerts (1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.) at Prairie Elementary along with a chorus of fourth-grade students. Call 376-9101 with questions.

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