Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative addresses diversity, helps dedicated students
Joyce Nam knows that as promising a violinist as she is already, she's still got a ways to go.
Her involvement in the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative is helping her get there.
"For me the program is really cool. They're able to help people who want to pursue a musical path," said Joyce, 13, an eighth-grader at Springman Middle School in Glenview.
Established in 2018 with a $3.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative (CMPI) is a mentorship program for sixth- through 12th-grade musicians from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. A long-term goal is to address a lack of diversity in American orchestras. Programs also exist in Atlanta, Boston, Nashville and Philadelphia.
There currently are 93 student Fellows enrolled in the Chicago program representing 57 ZIP codes throughout the metropolitan area. Provided students put in the work -- practicing, completing assignments -- CMPI's training and financial support is designed to prepare them to successfully audition into college classical music programs that may launch professional careers.
Online applications for the CMPI's 2021-22 cohort are due Feb. 5, at chicagopathways.org/audition. The application process includes attending a Zoom information session and submitting a prescreening audition video. If selected as a semifinalist further steps include a Zoom home visit and a final audition video. Decisions for 2021-22 will be made by May 1.
"We had a great opportunity to join this program," said Hyunsook Nam, Joyce's mother. Springman orchestra director Rachel Atlas recommended the program to Joyce.
"Through this CMPI program I think Joyce improved her technical skills in violin and also in musical information and resources. She's met a lot of people in the musical profession and I think she's gotten a more diverse and positive experience when meeting many people. She's getting support emotionally, too," Hyunsook said.
If accepted into the program, students are assigned a mentor from a pool of professional musicians culled from organizations such as Ravinia, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Joyce's mentor is Iris Wei, the string department chair at the Merit School of Music in Chicago. They meet remotely, due to the pandemic, once a month.
"When we get together we talk about how I've been, and some things I can work on over the month. She's there to give me support and she gives me advice on how to do things," Joyce said. "If I'm having any trouble doing something or I have any questions she'll be there and she can help me."
Parents can contact their child's mentor.
"That's a good part of the program," Hyunsook Nam said.
CMPI Fellow Anna Huelke and her father, Ed, of Northbrook, like it a lot.
"She thinks of it as a real feather in her cap that she got in," said Ed Huelke (pronounced "hull-key"), a trumpet player himself.
A 14-year-old flutist, Anna's formerly a full-time home-school student now taking three classes at Glenbrook North and four more at home. Until this, her freshman year, she played for four years in the Northbrook Junior High band.
(And it's flutist, not "flautist," she stated. "You don't play the flaut," she said.)
Although she doesn't fit the CMPI's "diversity" prerogative, she does face economic hardship in a family of seven on a single income. That counts, too.
To enable monthly recitals, which have been held over Zoom since Anna entered the program last August, CMPI will provide recording space, piano accompaniment, even lessons. Like a few of her peers she studies under Hideko Amano, a college instructor.
CMPI paid for her entry into the Chicago Flute Club 2020 Student Competition, in which Anna placed third in the junior division. And for the Walgreens National Concerto Competition, a virtual competition where Huelke was recorded performing in Curtiss Hall in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.
Students must uphold their commitment, with requirements such as writing periodic concert reports and submitting videos to staff. Students must declare their intent to continue music education in college by the end of their sophomore year, Anna said.
"I would definitely recommend it to people who want to become musicians, who are inspired like that," she said. "Even to people who have not played for a long time, because CMPI is a really good way to push yourself. They have a requirement of practicing at least 10 hours a week, so it's a lot.
"You watch yourself grow in a way, and you also watch the other participants grow," she said. "From recital to recital you're sure to see them improve."