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Music ‘a saving grace’ for Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe Youth Symphony string musicians practice together online prior to a performance. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association)

Andrea Cassutt doesn’t miss a beat.

As the executive director of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association, the past few months have been a whirlwind.

Yet, it didn’t stop Cassutt and her staff from keeping the music moving forward.

Educators were faced with the challenge of teaching 330-plus students from a wide demographic range symphony, jazz, mariachi and chamber music since the start of the pandemic.

Cassutt says instructors worked with each student on getting their pieces together.

“The children needed to learn how to record themselves,” she said. “Then it came back to the teachers and we had to line it up in terms of timing, so that we ended up with the experience of listening to an ensemble. It’s playing music together apart.”

When the pandemic hit, the organization sprang into action by immediately moving everything online.

“We wanted to make sure the students were still sharing music,” she said. “We’ve had these virtual concerts and we have weekly meetings on how to move forward.”

During the shutdown, the organization put together “satellite ensembles” where the larger orchestras became smaller groups.

Kids started getting burned out on online school very quickly.

SFYSA’s executive director heard anecdotal stories from teachers that they lost two-thirds of their students, though SFYSA has retained 96% of theirs.

“We didn’t miss a single rehearsal,” she said. “We had the gift of spring break to do new planning and we came back with a solid plan.”

The hard work came to fruition when the youth symphony performed on July 17-19.

The performances will be available on the youth symphony’s website, as well as its social media and YouTube channel.

Cassutt said the staff went above and beyond to provide extra help.

The orchestra conductor carved out 30 minutes with each of his 65 students for a one-on-one meeting to ask what each needed help with.

The mariachi director offered his voice students one-on-one lessons via Google Meets.

She said the students, some as young as 6, are being challenged to compose their own music – and are excelling at it.

“It’s extra important during this time that youth have a musical outlet,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to show that, despite not being in school, they get to uplift each other through music. The students are used to seeing each other on a daily basis. Music has been the bridge in keeping them managing their ‘new normal.’ It’s been a saving grace for many of them.”

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