Erin’s thoughts on Community Engagement
I first heard an orchestra and chorus when I was 6. I remember sitting on the back row of Atlanta Symphony Hall’s upper balcony transfixed by the sounds coming from that mass of blue robes known as the Atlanta Symphony Chorus. I danced to the energy emitted by the Morehouse Glee Club. I felt overwhelmed by the sound and complexity of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. And, I was intrigued by the sight of kids (in this case the Atlanta Young Singers of Callanwolde) who actually had the chance to be a part of the concert. Of course, I’m describing the annual Atlanta Christmas tradition then known as “Christmas with Robert Shaw.” The imposing man in a dark blue tux soon became an obsession.
Fortunately for me, my life was filled with people who guided me through the world of great music – who helped nurture this interest. My mom took me to the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker and explained the plot several times. My children’s chorus director (Mr. O of the Young Singers – the same group that was in that concert) pushed me to learn languages, theory, and discipline. My high school voice teacher (Kate Murray) and piano teacher (Beverly Gilbert) saw my dream of being in the ASO Chorus become a reality as they tirelessly prepped me for the audition. Kevin Brown, the Usher Manager of the ASO, allowed me to usher all through high school, and always let me sneak in before the rest of the ushers, so I wouldn’t miss the first piece.
So, although I had the opportunity to experience an orchestra at a young age, I certainly wouldn’t have kept at it had it not been for a team of adults who took the time to explain it to me – to nurture that love – and to open doors to even greater musical horizons.
To connect a person, a class, a community to soul-stirring music is one of the greatest honors of being a conductor and teacher. Whether it’s teaching 2,000 4th graders how to listen to silence, teaching college singers how to tune a chord, or helping an orchestra of 650 musicians of varying abilities raise money for and and awareness of music education, I am humbled by the opportunity to pass along what was so generously given to me.
“Community engagement” is the official term for what I do, but I like to think of it as community building through music. Some of my projects are light-hearted and some are more serious. All, however, give the me the chance to share the joy of this most human of activities.