A Q&A with conductor Danielle Johnson

The Front Range Youth Symphony are performing their final concerts of the season on May 4 and 5, and we had a chance to talk to conductor Danielle Johnson about the challenges she faced in keeping her students prepared during the pandemic.

Witness how talented and dedicated these young musicians are by purchasing a livestream link to these concerts! 

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by Leslie Simon

AC: What was the biggest challenge that you faced with FRYS when moving forward through the pandemic?

Danielle: When things first locked down last spring, I remember focusing on the most immediate challenge at that time, which was how do we provide meaningful, relevant experiences for our students to continue their learning in this remote setting. I think every educational program was re-evaluating their own purpose/role with that question in mind. In FRYS' case, we prepared our students to create their first virtual performance by putting them directly in touch with a handful of local college music professors for sectional rehearsals, performances, and interviews, and by participating in a panel discussion with professional musicians from three highly esteemed symphony orchestras across the country--Cleveland, Houston, and Colorado.

When the pandemic continued into the fall, we found ourselves asking the same question within some very different parameters. The students' needs had changed considerably, and the more important challenge to immediately address centered around the social-emotional component of our role in their lives within a musical and educational context. Facing this challenge meant finding a safe way to conduct in-person rehearsals so that the students could both interact with friends and make music together in the same room.

I have to say, these interactions are where it's at for me as an educator and musician. There is just something so humanly beautiful about creating music together. It is a balm for the mind and soul, and it causes the students to interact on multiple levels--musically, socially, intelligently, emotionally. Thankfully, the science behind the "how" we could actually make this happen was being studied in our backyard through CU-Boulder and CSU's research projects on aerosols. Those resources helped define what social distancing parameters work for musicians as well as the kind of space and air handling needed to conduct an in-person rehearsal.

And in the end, it was the Arvada Center who said yes to all these regulations and made that type of rehearsal space available to us. They met the challenges and made it possible for FRYS to exist this year.

 

AC: Are there any changes that you actually liked and hope continue as we get back to a more normal schedule?

Danielle: Due to limited audiences, the Arvada Center livestreamed our concerts for the first time. I think this not only serves as a wonderful solution to the issue at hand, but could continue to serve as a valuable addition to our traditional concerts moving forward. We can probably all agree there really is no replacement for attending a live performance and experiencing the excitement, emotions, and music that is happening in the space in that moment.

However, live streaming helped to bring home audience members as close as possible to actually being in the auditorium with us. It also opened the door to non-local family members and friends being able to watch their loved ones perform--many for the first time!

I think this is a wonderful way to broaden the scope of our audience and include important people in our lives from all over the map.

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