Acclaimed conductor urges music students to get involved


After being rejected three times by The Juilliard School’s orchestral conducting program and four times by the Tanglewood Music Center , Marin Alsop did what others told her she shouldn’t. She persisted.

“My path to becoming a conductor was probably a case study in rejection,” Alsop said Tuesday at the University of Minnesota School of Music’s convocation ceremony.

Alsop was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, which recognizes individuals who achieve distinction in their field. The degree is the highest award given by the University Board of Regents.

Alsop said it was rejection that fueled her fire to achieve what others told her she couldn’t.

Upon submitting her fifth and final application to Tanglewood Music Center , Alsop was accepted, and went on to study with the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein , her inspiration for becoming a conductor since she was nine years old.

Alsop’s visit to the University coincided with the launch of the School of Music’s public engagement initiative, which is supported by a $10,000 grant the University’s Office of Community Engagement awarded the school last fall. The goals of the project are to form a relationship between the School of Music and the Minneapolis community and to prepare its students to be engaged community leaders in their future careers as musicians.

“She is a wonderful advocate for community engagement,” director of the School of Music David Myers said.

In 2005, Alsop made history becoming the first female conductor of a major American orchestra when she was appointed conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra .

“She demonstrates to our students what really is possible with perseverance,” Myers said.

Since her instatement as conductor in Baltimore, Alsop has exemplified the role of being an engaged musician in the city.

“She’s sort of a trailblazer,” said Lisa Marshall, communications manager for the School of Music . “She’s really brought classical music outside of the concert hall, trying to make it more accessible to a wider group of people.”

In 2008, Alsop founded OrchKids, an after-school music education program in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. Through the program, students learn musicianship with the goal of improving the students’ social, academic and behavioral skills.

Last year, 30 students participated in OrchKids, where they received musical theory instruction for the first half of the year, followed by lessons on the instrument of their choice throughout the second half of the program.

This year, nearly 180 students will participate in the program .

Alsop started the program with funding from the MacArthur Fellowship Prize, nicknamed the genius award, she was given in 2005.

“Music serves as a vehicle for social change,” Alsop told University students Tuesday. “You can take a major role in changing your community.”