By Tim Munro
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra provides scholarships for African American undergraduates who are studying in a music-related field in greater St. Louis as part of the IN UNISON Academy, the educational support arm of the orchestra’s IN UNISON program. These IN UNISON Scholars receive mentoring from SLSO staff and musicians, and have the opportunity to participate in other events and partnerships.
Diana West is a new IN UNISON Scholar. She is a sophomore at St. Charles Community College, majoring in music education with a voice focus. She is planning to transfer to University of Missouri-St. Louis for the next school year. According to UNISON Scholars program director, Michelle Byrd, Diana is “a phenomenal jazz singer.”
This interview with Diana was condensed and edited for clarity, and questions were removed.
Most of my family are singers. My aunt was a choir director at Harris Stowe State University for many years. She taught my dad when he was in college, a lot of my uncles, a lot of my cousins, my aunt.
The musicians in my church were also inspiring. They didn’t all know how to read music, but—the capability that they had—how much music they played and how hard they worked. It really inspired me to want to dive in and dig deep.
I’m a local girl. I was born and raised in Ferguson, Missouri, and moved to O'Fallon in eighth grade. My godfather is a musician in St. Louis. Watching him producing all the different types of music. I just knew that, yeah, music is definitely my purpose. That put the spark in me.
My headphones were my best friend in middle school and high school. In seventh or eighth grade, I remember hearing to Robert Glasper’s Black Radio project. It was his very first project with like vocalist on every song. His whole project was listening to these different artists and making sure all the songs and the project flowed.
I remember saying to my mom, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.”
I originally wanted to be a music producer. But watching the way my high school choir teacher inspired me—the positive influence she had—I wanted to leave that same positive mark on young people. Education—and music education in particular—is important because it teaches you another perspective.
Your character is really molded and built in high school—they are some of the most important years your life. I knew I would be able to leave a positive mark on any student that I will be blessed to come across.
Although I took the music education route, I’m still learning the basics music of music producing! And I want to learn Spanish, and possibly French, and to travel—to bring opportunities to different kids across the world. Then to bring those resources back to St. Louis, back to my own city, my own community.
The IN UNISON Scholar program has helped me cultivate my musicianship. I can tend to kind of be in the background. I'm definitely called to be a leader in my own way, and I just know that this is really going to bring me out of my comfort zone.
I’m interning as part of the SLSO’s Peer to Peer program (a mentorship opportunity between members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and young string instrumentalists in St. Louis). It is a music mentorship program, where we work with a group of high school and middle school students as they prepare for auditions to be a part of instrumental ensembles.
The people involved in the Scholars program truly, truly care, not just for themselves but for every individual that comes through their program. They want everybody to win and succeed.
Tim Munro is the SLSO’s Creative Partner.