Acclaimed conductor urges music students to get involved

Marin Alsop spoke at the School of Music’s convocation.

Mackenzie Martin

After being rejected three times by The Juilliard SchoolâÄôs orchestral conducting program and four times by the Tanglewood Music Center , Marin Alsop did what others told her she shouldnâÄôt. She persisted. âÄúMy path to becoming a conductor was probably a case study in rejection,âÄù Alsop said Tuesday at the University of Minnesota School of MusicâÄôs convocation ceremony. Alsop was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, which recognizes individuals who achieve distinction in their field. The degree is the highest award given by the University Board of Regents. Alsop said it was rejection that fueled her fire to achieve what others told her she couldnâÄôt. Upon submitting her fifth and final application to Tanglewood Music Center , Alsop was accepted, and went on to study with the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein , her inspiration for becoming a conductor since she was nine years old. AlsopâÄôs visit to the University coincided with the launch of the School of MusicâÄôs public engagement initiative, which is supported by a $10,000 grant the UniversityâÄôs Office of Community Engagement awarded the school last fall. The goals of the project are to form a relationship between the School of Music and the Minneapolis community and to prepare its students to be engaged community leaders in their future careers as musicians. âÄúShe is a wonderful advocate for community engagement,âÄù director of the School of Music David Myers said. In 2005, Alsop made history becoming the first female conductor of a major American orchestra when she was appointed conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra . âÄúShe demonstrates to our students what really is possible with perseverance,âÄù Myers said. Since her instatement as conductor in Baltimore, Alsop has exemplified the role of being an engaged musician in the city. âÄúSheâÄôs sort of a trailblazer,âÄù said Lisa Marshall, communications manager for the School of Music . âÄúSheâÄôs really brought classical music outside of the concert hall, trying to make it more accessible to a wider group of people.âÄù In 2008, Alsop founded OrchKids, an after-school music education program in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. Through the program, students learn musicianship with the goal of improving the studentsâÄô social, academic and behavioral skills. Last year, 30 students participated in OrchKids, where they received musical theory instruction for the first half of the year, followed by lessons on the instrument of their choice throughout the second half of the program. This year, nearly 180 students will participate in the program . Alsop started the program with funding from the MacArthur Fellowship Prize, nicknamed the genius award, she was given in 2005. âÄúMusic serves as a vehicle for social change,âÄù Alsop told University students Tuesday. âÄúYou can take a major role in changing your community.âÄù