Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: Making world-class music accessible to all children in Utah regardless of distance or demographic

Julie Edwards, the Utah Symphony’s violist said, “you never know who you will touch in one of our performances. I was also once a student hearing a string quartet in a school concert for the first time.” Those first interactions, especially for talented musicians waiting to be exposed to the right instrument or right sounds, can be the inspiration that creates some of the greatest musicians of our time and is what helps continue the valuable appreciation for the classical arts. Utah Symphony | Utah Opera’s outreach to K-12 schools across the state—a program which constitute nearly a third of all programming for USUO, continues that tradition through live orchestra and opera performances for students.

Utah Symphony Associate Conductor Rei Hotoda sits with students following a concert

What is a unique achievement from the part of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera is the outreach not only to urban schools but to every school across Utah, even in the most rural areas. Ongoing funding for this education program from the state legislature is “critical,” according to teacher Michael McDonald, from Eureka, Utah: “We have a really small community with high poverty rates and minimal access to fine arts and so it’s really amazing that the symphony can make it out here for a concert and have personal time with the kids.” In 2016, there were also many free symphony and opera performances for community members in areas including Richfield, Ephraim, Randolph, Moab and Monticello.

Regardless of distance or demographic, USUO’s arts outreach to schools provides opportunities for Utahns to be exposed to world-class music without having to pay or travel. “These kids would never otherwise have these opportunities in these areas. It just isn’t going to happen,” McDonald said. The USUO education program also provides many unique opportunities for students to learn more about music and to grow as artists themselves, including personal instruction before or after school concerts through “Musicians in the Classroom,” “Masterclasses” with visiting world-class guest artists, and many other programs. For budding musicians, opportunities to perform in Abravanel Hall with the Utah Symphony are also available through “Salute to Youth” and “All-Star Evening” annual concerts.

USUO’s history of arts outreach to schools goes back to the days before Utah Symphony’s merger with Utah Opera when Music Director Maurice Abravanel inaugurated the first dedicated arts outreach to schools, performing as many school concerts as possible across the intermountain west. Abravanel later became the principal advocate for the Professional Outreach Programs in the Schools (POPS) funding from the Utah State Legislature. Because of this program, Utah Symphony still gives school performances but now they are able to reach every school district in the state (on 3 year cycles) including rural communities, performing more than 40 in-school concerts and 10 5th grade concerts in Abravanel Hall, serving more than 60,000 students per year, including those in small communities. Utah Opera’s five resident artists also travel to school districts on a yearly basis with opera programs. Sara Coit, Utah Opera Resident Artist said, “A couple months ago we went to this school where there were only five kids but they were so enthusiastic and fun! And knowing they may never have this experience otherwise is special for us too.”

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