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SLSO SymphonyCares—Sharing Music In the Community

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

By Eric Dundon


This December, two ensembles of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians packed up their instruments and music and hit the road for concerts at two special locations. Even in this nomadic season for the orchestra while Powell Hall is closed for expansion and renovation, these concerts stand out—not because of the venues in which the musicians performed, but because of the audiences for whom they performed.


These two concerts were performed for audiences who can’t come to the orchestra, continuing a long tradition of sharing music with people in circumstances that make traveling to a concert difficult or impossible through the SymphonyCares program.


On December 5, an ensemble of SLSO musicians—together called Cortango—performed a holiday-themed concert for incarcerated people at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC), a low- and medium-security prison for men in Pacific, Missouri. Cortango, composed of a string quintet with the addition of an English horn, performed Latin-infused holiday music for a grateful audience.

Members of Cortango, a chamber ensemble of SLSO musicians, perform at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center on December 5, 2023.

The audience members, several of whom had previously attended SLSO concerts at Powell Hall as children, listened attentively as the ensemble performed music by Astor Piazzolla, alongside traditional holiday carols and ending in a singalong of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night.”


“It’s part of the SLSO’s philosophy that music knows no boundaries,” said Maureen Byrne, the SLSO’s Vice President of Education and Community Partnerships. “It is our privilege to share music with all types of audiences. Our musicians receive so much energy and enthusiasm from the audiences we reach through SymphonyCares.”


A few days later and more than 20 miles away, members of the SLSO trombone section returned to St. Agnes Home, an assisted living facility in Kirkwood, for their own musical celebration of the holidays. Residents clapped along and enjoyed seeing new and familiar faces—the musicians have spread holiday cheer with the residents of St. Agnes yearly for more than two decades, only interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donning Christmas hats and performing a few original arrangements of holiday tunes, the trombonists’ visit has become a cherished tradition for many of the residents.

In a 2021 SymphonyCares concert at St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood, the SLSO trombone section performs for residents in an annual holiday concert.

"The fact that the symphony chooses to come to St. Agnes Home to perform each year means the world to the residents and staff," Joanne Giljum, St. Agnes Director of Business and Community Outreach, said.


The partnership with St. Agnes Home is one of several with residential and retirement facilities. The SLSO regularly shares music with the residents at Crown Center in University City and Covenant Place in Creve Coeur.


SymphonyCares concerts not only lift the spirits of the people in the audiences, but also enrich the musical lives of the orchestra’s members. Cally Banham, the SLSO’s English horn player and member of Cortango, recalled developing an interest in visiting MECC with Cortango after hearing about the positive and fulfilling experience of her colleagues who performed at the facility previously.


“SLSO colleagues of mine who have performed at MECC without exception mark the experience as one of the most meaningful concerts they have done in the community,” Banham said. “The Cortango holiday program is very uplifting, and I wanted to share this experience with people who would feel encouraged by a change of routine with this celebratory musical experience.”


Byrne said that the enthusiasm Banham expressed is shared throughout the orchestra; musicians gladly accept invitations to participate in SymphonyCares performances. The upbeat, encouraging atmosphere of these performances gives confidence to musicians, who often perform well beyond the concert environment they normally experience.


That uplifting feeling is shared by audience members. Following the most recent MECC concert in 2019, audience members shared their reaction to the performance.


“I am so thankful that the [musicians] could come and play for us and give some joy to us in this place,” one audience member wrote in a letter to the orchestra. “I pray it inspired men to want to bring joy to others’ lives as it did for me.”


“Thank you for the beautiful, healing music,” wrote another. “It is programs like this that create real change. Thank you for treating us with dignity and kindness through music.”


The shared joy of music is also experienced through Creative Music Making, a special SymphonyCares collaboration between the SLSO, Maryville University, and St. Louis Arc—a St. Louis nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Creative Music Making, a longstanding SymphonyCares collaboration, partners SLSO musicians with music therapists and clients at St. Louis Arc for a special, inclusive concert experience.

Once a year, Creative Music Making partners SLSO musicians with St. Louis Arc clients and the Maryville University music therapy program to create a special concert that uplifts the creative abilities of people who might not otherwise experience a symphonic performance.


The SLSO has a long history of reaching populations unable to travel to the orchestra, but in 2012, those programs coalesced under the SymphonyCares banner, fortifying the institution’s commitment to the St. Louis community. Concerts have spanned retirement facilities, healthcare facilities, and hospitals, touching many lives, including those within the orchestra.


“Music belongs to everyone. Hearing live music performed by musicians in person is a deep and personal experience,” Banham said. “It makes people feel special and valued when we make the effort to go to them. This gesture of giving a live performance can actually improve the wellbeing of those unable to travel to have the experience.”


Byrne said the SLSO is committed to adapting these concerts to the community, and the musicians are equally committed to engaging with the people SymphonyCares serves.


“Our musicians are incredibly eager to be part of our broader community,” she said. “They are willing to bring music to everybody, and to do so on the terms that our audiences are able to receive it.”


Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.



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