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SLSO and Grand Center Arts Academy Build Strong Relationship Through Education

By Eric Dundon

As Powell Hall closed for a significant expansion and renovation project earlier this May, some of the iconic red velvet seats headed to a new home not far from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s auditorium. High school students from Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) hauled 75 of the seats across Grand Blvd. to the academy’s in-building theater, where the seats will continue to be surrounded by the arts.

Grand Center Arts Academy students move seats from the Powell Hall Auditorium across Grand Blvd. to the school's theater on Friday, May 19.

Michael Musgrave-Perkins, GCAA’s theater department lead teacher, instructed the students to bring the seats upstairs and line them up, taking the place of the outdated and worn seats that pre-date the school’s founding in 2010.

“The seats donated by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra are going to make our studio theater shine,” Musgrave-Perkins said. “When parents and students come into the theater for performances or classes, they’re going to see these amazing chairs and we’ll have a great story about our fantastic neighbors at the SLSO.”

GCAA theater teacher Zachary McKinney lines up seats from Powell Hall in the Grand Center school's small theater. The SLSO donated the seats to the school.

While Powell Hall seats will have a new life at the school, what’s not new is the extensive partnership between the SLSO and GCAA, the orchestra’s neighbor. The relationship between the two Grand Center institutions dates to the 2012/2013 season and came into its own this past season. Throughout the 2022/2023 school year, GCAA music students collaborated with the SLSO in a variety of ways, experiencing the orchestra and its musicians in Powell Hall, at their school, and in the St. Louis community, creating bonds with SLSO musicians that encourage them to continue their musical pursuits.

“Our relationship with Grand Center Arts Academy is exactly what we envision for our education programs—a robust relationship where the SLSO invests in the students and their teachers long-term, providing a variety of meaningful experiences,” said Maureen Byrne, SLSO Vice President of Education and Community Partnerships. “Meanwhile, the students enrich our musicians’ lives. It’s a wonderful, reciprocal relationship.”

In total, GCAA participated in half a dozen SLSO programs over the past year.

In February, more than 80 GCAA students visited Maryville University as part of the SLSO’s College Connections program, which introduces middle and high school music students to a higher education institution through the lens of an SLSO chamber music performance. The visit, Byrne said, was “mind-blowing” for the students, who observed in three music therapy sessions and heard an SLSO string quartet, while also touring the campus and getting a taste of college life.

Grand Center Arts Academy music students pose for a photo at Maryville University, part of a campus visit facilitated by the SLSO.

“SLSO College Connections shows these students a possible next step in their educational journey, whether it involves music or not,” Byrne said. “We are grateful to area colleges and universities for hosting these powerful experiences for music program participants, who often are the highest-achieving and most engaged students.”

GCAA’s band and orchestra programs were selected for the SLSO’s Symphony In Your School, Secondary program. SLSO musicians teamed up with band and orchestra students for multiple opportunities throughout the school year: SLSO musicians visited band and orchestra rehearsals, 90 music students came to a Friday morning concert in December, and a small group of students also observed part of a rehearsal and met with SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève.

“The partnership between GCAA and the SLSO this year has deeply enriched the music education experience for our entire community, from students, to families and staff,” said GCAA band teacher Stephenie Grasso. “We aspire for our students to be the next generation of music lovers whether through vocation or as concertgoers; the opportunities the SLSO has given this year have greatly contributed to this goal. We are already excited to build upon this wonderful work in the coming years.”

Two GCAA students were mentees in the SLSO’s Peer to Peer program, an innovative program in which young musicians, SLSO musicians, and musicians in the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra have weekly coaching sessions and build connections through music.

Joseph Hendricks, the SLSO’s Education and Community Partnerships Assistant, manages Peer to Peer. Not only were two GCAA students part of this integral SLSO education program, but many sessions were held at GCAA—with the school donating the rehearsal and meeting space to the SLSO.

“Grand Center Arts Academy stepped up when space constraints meant we couldn’t hold some Peer to Peer sessions at Powell Hall,” Hendricks said. “We were happy to welcome two students from GCAA into the program. Both were very excited about music and found their own successes this school year.”

To welcome the students and their families to Powell Hall, GCAA participated in the SLSO ACCESS ticket program—an initiative that provides free tickets to SLSO concerts for select community partners. Between January and May 2023, GCAA students and their families received more than 800 tickets to SLSO events.

“Music builds bridges between to communities, and we were so thrilled to see so many GCAA students and their families at Powell Hall this spring,” Byrne said.


Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.


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