By Eric Dundon and Caitlin Custer
On Friday, April 22, voices filled the rafters of Friendly Temple Church in north St. Louis in a showcase of the many musical talents in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s IN UNISON programs.
About 450 people attended the concert, which featured 70 voices of the IN UNISON Chorus, an 11-piece string ensemble of SLSO musicians, and seven students from Gateway Music Outreach, who have spent this year growing their skills with mentorship from SLSO musicians and members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra as part of the SLSO’s Peer-to-Peer program.
The yearly IN UNISON Chorus concert celebrated the entirety of the SLSO’s IN UNISON programs, the institution’s signature community outreach initiatives that includes a church program, chorus, and academic support arm.
“It was a magical evening,” said Maureen Byrne, SLSO Associate Vice President of Education and Community Partnerships. “We’re so grateful to collaborate with the many musicians involved on concerts like this, which brings music right to the community.”
IN UNISON Chorus Director Kevin McBeth conducted and introduced the program, which featured a variety of music for the IN UNISON Chorus including Rollo Dilworth’s Justice, André Thomas’ I Dream a World, and Hezekiah Walker’s Every Praise.
The Chorus has presented a spring vocal program for many years, complementing several performances at Powell Hall with the SLSO each season, including A Gospel Christmas and Lift Every Voice: Black History Month Celebration.
Throughout the showcase, IN UNISON Scholars Alayna Epps and Nadia Maddex sang with SLSO string players on arrangements of art songs by Florence Price, one of the first Black women to find success as a composer in the 1930s. Making these performances extra special, former IN UNISON Scholar Terrence "TJ" Abernathy conducted the performances of these pieces, which he arranged with the assistance of SLSO violinist Emily Ho.
Another highlight of the concert featured young musicians. Several students from Gateway Music Outreach (GMO), a local nonprofit which provides community music education, joined the SLSO musicians and chorus in performances of Rollo Dilworth’s Justice. These students have grown in their musical skills through the SLSO’s Peer-to-Peer program, which partners GMO students with SLSO musicians and members of the YO for mentorship sessions. The collaboration helps the young musicians develop confidence with the goal of playing a piece before a panel at the end of the season. Several administrators from GMO attended, including Co-Founder James McKay, Jr., joining the families of the young musicians to enjoy this special part of the showcase.
“These families were so proud of their kids,” Byrne said. “For some, it was the first time seeing their kids perform—and here they got to share a stage with SLSO musicians!”
Peer-to-Peer began several years ago and quadrupled in scale in the 2020/2021 season through digital mentorship sessions.
Learn more about the SLSO’s IN UNISON programs here.
IN UNISON is presented by Bayer Fund.
Peer to Peer is presented by Lori and Andrew O’Brien and supported by The Kuhn Foundation and Ascension Charity Classic.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO's Public Relations Manager. Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.