MILWAUKEE - I'm from Alessandria, Piedmont. With about 100 thousand inhabitants, it’s the provincial capital. I left at the end of the nineties, but if I'm not mistaken, things, at least with regard to culture and the possibilities to access it, have not improved at all. If anything, the opposite has happened. The residents of Alessandria have not had not a real theater for three years and, oh my, how we waited for that theater! I spent my youth waiting for its opening (it took years to build), then there was a short period of intoxication of culture because of it. Architecturally, the outside is really ugly, but  I've always liked the inside. Ferrero Hall, with its activities and screenings of niche movies, and the great room, both of them were extensively used (cinema, theater, opera, and concerts of both classical and contemporary music). We all went to the theater! Now it’s closed. Unfortunately, It could only be so as it was built with asbestos. Excuse my ignorance, but the theater opened at the end of the 70s: didn’t we know already that asbestos was carcinogenic? Of course we did: we knew that since 1962, but in Casale and other production towns, until the mid 80s, companies continued to manufacture products with asbestos fibers, probably sold at low prices, so as to win investors. If you are in Alessandria, you know this better than I do and this is not the purpose of my article.

As my fellow citizens I went to the theater to enjoy opera, theater and concerts from travelling artists, but I am aware that Alessandria also has a symphony orchestra, or at least it should. They have a website, but it has not been updated for the last 3 seasons. Where are they? How does a person in Alessandria go to listen to them? How is possible to listen to classical music in Alessandria? How does the community educate the new generations to appreciate Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet , etc. while letting them listen to Fabri Fibra, Ligabue and Cold Play? What music do the children have on their iPods? Not everyone has a passion so deep they want to pursue a career as a musician. Even so, Alessandria offers a very good conservatory of music, preparing very good musicians ( conservatories of music are normal schools where children can pursue their musical education while passing grades up to 12th grade), but what about the rest of the young generation?

Here is my experience on the other side of the world. I'll tell you how a fourth-grade girl approached music thanks to school and how she has not left it. In fourth grade in our school district, music becomes highly recommended. In fourth grade a student can choose to play a musical instrument and in fifth grade they can be part of the school choir. The instruments are those of a symphony orchestra. Some students choose wind instruments and percussion and go on to form the school band. Others prefer stringed instrument: violin, viola, cello and double bass, and go on to form the orchestra. And so it was for our daughter, who chose the viola (with great joy on our part at the thought of having avoided the off-key caterwauling of those who study the violin at the beginning. The viola’s tones are lower and less shrill). You do not even need to invest into a musical instrument! If you wish, you can rent it from the school for a while, otherwise you can do it through music stores that offer rentals for the school year.

Concerts in elementary school are a pain to listen to and it takes all the love of a parent to not leave by second note but in the end the goal was reached. In many children, this instills a love for music. We did not push our daughter with private lessons and other activities from the start and had it not been for a chance meeting when she was in sixth grade (after sixth grade, playing an instrument or being part of the choir becomes optional), our story may have ended here. This is what happened instead.

In sixth grade, while visiting her old teachers at the elementary school, the music teacher told our daughter that MYSO would need her because it was always short of violas and suggested she show up at the following Monday’s rehearsal. So, by chance, we made MYSO’s acquaintance and both her life and our’s has changed.

It's been seven years since that day and from a child, my daughter has grown up, but her music and her viola have always been her companions. Next year she will begin college and will not be doing anything that has to do with music, like the majority of her fellow orchestra members. Nonetheless, thanks to MYSO and her school orchestra, she and her fellow musicians have had experiences not many young people get to have.

MYSO takes the kids from a very basic level to high levels of musical skill. I have attached a video from two years ago when they played in Prague. Yes Prague in the Czech Republic. Yes in the Dvorak Hall of Rudolfinum, a concert auditorium filled with a fee, where complete strangers and connoisseurs of music all stood up to applaud them. We were very excited, as you can imagine.

What young person can say they've played in Vienna, in the Musikverein , the golden one that hosts the famous New Year’s eve concert. Or in New York at Carnegie Hall with their school? MYSO makes these experiences possible for everyone, even those who would not otherwise be able to afford them. Many of the kids in the video were there thanks to sponsors because, in the United States, sponsorship of the arts and culture pays!

MYSO is not a circle of elites. Participation is, compared to other programs, not expensive, and if one cannot afford it, the various fundraisers cover the cost. Logically, to get to the higher levels of orchestra, one must also take private lessons and pass the auditions, but there is no better incentive than to be able to play their music as well as they do. Among the best things about MYSO is the collaboration with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra or MSO. They sit with the students for side by side rehearsals, send their musicians for solos in concerts and entertain parents and children with rehearsals open to the public and Q&A sessions.

That's what makes me say "living music”. It’s the relationship between the city and its orchestras, a relationship of continuous interaction and exchange which keeps people going to concerts. On those evenings you go dressed as you can; there's the lady in furs, there’s the guy in jeans and there are many families with children! It costs little more than a night at the movies. Even at MYSO concerts, the audience is not only made up of parents. There are also music appreciators from the community.

Another large part of the MYSO experience from the lowest level up is the community concerts. This year, my daughter went with her orchestra to give a concert at the Indian Community School and left very excited. The school celebrated the orchestra by making them participants in a powwow. It is natural. When you volunteer yourself, you give but you also receive just as much, maybe even more.

I spoke with a dear friend of mine, a professor of music in Alessandria, who told me of the steps that are being taken at the school level to re-introduce music to the programs and the heads of the students! I'm happy and I hope that these efforts will be helped at the institutional level. Our kids playing in the same theaters as the biggest names in music, parents paying for a ticket to go see their children doesn’t surprise people here. It would be nice if the same happened in Italy. If the is already happening, sorry for not being updated.

A sorrowful note to end with: When MYSO played in Prague and Vienna (a few years earlier, they went on tour in China and Canada , and before that they came to Italy) they participated in an international competition for youth music groups. There were ensembles from all over the world. They came from countries such as New Zealand, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, China, Hungary, Russia, Poland , Romania, the United States, Switzerland, etc. The kids came in contact with other young people from around the world in friendship and harmony, and experience they will never forget. Apart from that incredible experience, not just musical but human, we noticed one thing. There was no Italian orchestras. I’ll say no more.

(photo courtesy of MYSO)
translation from Italian courtesy of Francesca Pessarelli