top of page

SLSO program serves as a ‘bridge’ between orchestra students, classical music, and higher education

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Angelo Collier has big musical goals.

The 8th grade student at Jennings Junior High School in north St. Louis County is a member of the school orchestra’s violin section and hopes to pursue music professionally.

But to achieve his career aspirations, Angelo knows he must first attend a college or university.

Students from the Normandy School District smile as they prepare to watch an SLSO chamber performance by Cortango, a jazz/Latin fusion group made up of SLSO musicians. The performance, held at Harris-Stowe State University, was part of the SLSO's College Connections program, which connects area middle and high school music programs with higher education institutions.

On his short list of schools to attend for music training: Juilliard. While Angelo feels confident about his pursuit of a degree in music, many of his classmates are just beginning to think about higher education options.

That’s where the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra comes in.

Angelo and his orchestra classmates at Jennings, plus music students from the Normandy and St. Louis Public School Districts, visited Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU) on February 26 to attend a free performance by an SLSO ensemble. Thanks to a partnership between the SLSO, area public schools, and several colleges and universities, the students also got a taste of college life during their visit, which included an overview of the university, a tour of campus, and lunch.

In its first year, the College Connections program partnered with six St. Louis-area colleges and universities to expose local music students to higher education. SLSO College Connections is another facet of the existing Symphony In Your College program, which gives college students access to SLSO chamber performances free of charge.

Cortango musicians, from left: Adam Maness, Yin Xiong, David DeRiso, Chris Tantillo, Asako Kuboki, and Cally Banham.

“The SLSO takes pride in connecting music students from across the region to colleges during their formative years,” Maureen Byrne, SLSO Senior Director of Education and Community Partnerships, said. “Colleges are very aware that students involved with school music programs are among the most likely to perform well academically in high school and go on to college.”

During the February 26 visit to HSSU, students surprised campus tour guides by asking meaningful questions about the college experience. Following the chamber concert, they recited the HSSU chant learned earlier in the day with enthusiasm.

The catalyst for the college visit, though, is the music performance.

“Being able to bring potential students to our campus tour and then see a concert is a win-win,” said Dr. Robert McNichols, HSSU assistant professor of music. “Everything about the SLSO’s College Connections Program fit with what I wanted to do for the university, fit with what the university is doing, and fit with what the SLSO has done for a long time."

McNichols worked with the SLSO and partner school districts to organize the visit.

Both McNichols and James McKay, orchestra teacher in the Jennings School District, know the value of pursuing a career in the arts. They played in the same orchestra in high school and are both passing on their love of music to younger generations as music educators.

“Unless they experience classical music, younger people won’t develop an appetite for it. Seeing the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians perform live, it gives them a sense of what they can be or do later in life. It makes them want to work harder on their craft,” McKay said. “Hopefully it gives them intrinsic motivation to do this later on in life.”

The students heard Cortango, an ensemble of SLSO musicians, perform a fusion of Latin and ragtime pieces, including a work by Scott Joplin.

For students like Angelo, the concert was more than a performance. It was a call to action.

“Sitting that close to the music, it makes me think, ‘What can I do to get in that position or become even better?’” Angelo said.

For his teacher, James McKay, the College Connections program is a successful venture to connect the community to classical music, starting at a young age.

“This program has really bridged the community with what I consider a foreign entity for many of them,” he said. “With this type of initiative in place, it makes attending a symphony concert more inviting and welcoming and something parents can view as a viable option for an outing as a family.”

See photos from the visit to HSSU below:

To learn more about SLSO College Connections, visit


bottom of page