SLSO and Make-A Wish Missouri Team to Grant Faith’s Wish

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The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Make-A-Wish Missouri teamed to make a young girl’s wish come true in October.

Faith*, who is eight-years-old, wanted to experience an SLSO concert.

She was born with SOX2 anophthalmia syndrome. The genetic condition left Faith blind and with limited mobility.

Faith’s mom, Bridget*, said that life or her daughter can be a “struggle,” but music has been a “great motivator.”

On October 8, SLSO musicians Melissa Brooks, Celeste Golden Boyer, Beth Guterman Chu, and Eva Kozma performed three pieces of music for Faith at St. Francis Xavier College Church. St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Artist-in-Residence Brian Owens was the featured vocalist for the concert.

“To see the string quartet and vocalist so dedicated to making this happen for her was special to us,” Bridget said.

SLSO cellist Melissa Brooks called the experience “amazing.”

“It really was it was an honor to play for her,” Brooks said.

SLSO violist Beth Guterman Chu agreed.

“Anytime we can touch anyone it is special, but to know that this was Faith’s dream, was a real high point for me,” Guterman Chu said.

Faith’s Make-A-Wish also included a private concert in her home on October 4. The musicians performed two pieces of music, including a piece by Tony Bennett.

“This was just a great opportunity to see how much Faith is loved by so many people,” Bridget said. “It was the right wish request.”

*For privacy reasons, the SLSO is not releasing the family’s last name.


SLSO Joins Forces with Military Bands for Extraordinary Concert

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Patriotism, pride, and percussion filled Powell Hall for the 2017 Joining Forces concert.

Musicians of the St. Louis Symphony, the 399th Army Band, and the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America joined forces to honor veterans and active duty military service members.

The musicians performed powerful pieces of music, including Lincoln Portrait and Stars and Stripes Forever

More than 2,000 people attended the free concert. Neil Cantwell, an Army veteran, attended the concert with a group of veterans.

“I was astounded by it,” Cantwell said. “They played this well.”

While the St. Louis Symphony has a history of working with both military bands, the concert marked the first joint performance at Powell Hall.

“It was quite an honor and amazing experience,” said USAF Band of Mid-America musician Quincy Garner. I think the audience appreciated the music, and I think if we had five more tunes they would’ve stayed for that.”

The concert’s conductors were Kevin McBeth of the St. Louis Symphony, Lt. Col. Michael Willen of the USAF Band of Mid-America, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benjamin McMillan of the 399th ArmyBand, and Lt. Wilson Wiseof the USAF Band of Mid-America.

The concert was presented by Commerce Bank.



SymphonyCares & Clowns on Call Bring Music & Comedy to Children in St. Louis Hospitals

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The St. Louis Symphony, Circus Flora, and Build-A-Bear Workshop are partnering for series of performances for children at area hospitals.

Violinist Angie Smart and Claire “the Clown” Wedemeyer from Clowns on Call provide the entertainment. The performances are a mixture of music and comedy.

Smart plays crowd favorites and Wedemeyer keeps the children laughing. It is a routine Smart and Wedemeyer have perfected. The pair have been performing at area hospitals since 2012.

In addition to the entertainment, each child receives a stuffed-animal from Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Kira Stout, 9, attended one of the performances at Mercy Children’s Hospital in 2016. Her father, David Stout, said the performance served as an entertaining escape.

“When she heard they were here (at Mercy Children’s Hospital) she got very excited and wanted to come down and see it,” Stout said. “She just loved it.”

The hospital performances are part of the SymphonyCares program.

The goal of the program is to enrich people’s lives through the power of music.


Remaining Performance Schedule:

  • St. Louis Children’s Hospital

January 24, 2017


  • Mercy Children’s Hospital

March 29, 2017


  • Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

May 4, 2017





Music, Memory & Joy

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Memorial Day gives us mental and emotional time and space to remember those we’ve lost in war. The SymphonyCares program has been adding music to that time and space at New Mt. Sinai Cemetery for three seasons. Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein, pianist Patti Wolf and tenor Daniel Brodsky performed works by Berlioz, Chabrier, Ravel and contemporary composer Anthony Plog. Brodsky is Executive Director of New Mt. Sinai along with being a longtime member of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. Director of Community Programs Maureen Byrne told me “The concert program always shows respect for the occasion, but it’s never overly solemn.” Remembrance should be joyful too.

Maureen Byrne and Gary Godwin. Godwin's Silk Foundation helps support community programs concerts.
Maureen Byrne and Gary Godwin. Godwin’s Silk Foundation helps support community programs concerts such as SymphonyCares @ New Mt. Sinai Cemetery.
Thomas Jostlein
Thomas Jostlein

After the concert Jöstlein wrote: “This community concert today epitomizes why I feel these concerts are the most essential and important work that we at the Symphony do.”

Memorial Stone
Memorial Stone
The New Mt. Sinai Cemetery concert
The New Mt. Sinai Cemetery concert


Kangaroo Juice

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Barbara Fletcher sits in her hospital room chair with blood flowing into her body through a tube. “My kangaroo juice,” she calls it, because whenever she receives new blood she feels new energy. A short concert has just concluded outside her room, performed by Symphony violinist Silvian Iticovici and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly. Fletcher describes the images that passed through her mind as Iticovici and Lilly played works by Satie and others. Fletcher tells me about warm breezes, trees, a refreshing pond with fish rising briefly to the surface. The music took her far outside the hospital room, far from the tubes and monitors.

Allegra Lilly tunes at SLU Cancer Center's Blood & Marrow Outpatient Transplant facility.
Allegra Lilly tunes at SLU Cancer Center’s Blood & Marrow Outpatient Transplant facility.

Fletcher visits the Blood & Marrow Outpatient Transplant services at Saint Louis University Cancer Center regularly with her husband and daughter. Her daughter was her marrow donor. Nobody likes to come for cancer treatment, but when Symphony musicians are scheduled to perform it becomes a day to look forward to. SymphonyCares and the SLU Cancer Center have been partnering since 2011. Maureen Byrne, Symphony Director of Community Programs, never has a hard time finding musicians to participate.

Silvian Iticovici warms up.
Silvian Iticovici warms up.

On a drizzly Monday morning, Lilly and Iticovici set up in front of a nurses’ station. The doors to the patients’ rooms up and down the corridor are open. Without introduction, the music begins.


A doctor dons a mask before entering a patient's room. Video intern Nicola Muscroft documents the concert.
A doctor dons a mask before entering a patient’s room. Video intern Nicola Muscroft documents the concert.

Music therapists Crystal Weaver and Andrew Dwiggins are on hand for whatever may be needed. Weaver tells me that it’s not expected for the Symphony musicians to be therapists, but she and Dwiggins have the training to come to a patient’s or a family member’s aid when the music pulls the emotions intensely. Dwiggins says it’s never a matter of being alarmed that someone may cry, but to make sure that the patient or loved one feels safe to cry, to acknowledge what the music has released.

Allegra Lilly and Silivian Iticovici meet with Barbara Fletcher and her family.
Allegra Lilly and Silvian Iticovici meet with Barbara Fletcher and her family.

After the concert Lilly and Iticovici meet with Barbara, her husband and daughter, wearing protective gowns, gloves and masks. Lilly tells me afterward that the SLU Cancer Center concerts remind her of why she makes music. Iticovici agrees, “It’s about being able to touch someone.”



Welcome, World

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The St. Louis Symphony welcomed families from the International Institute to Sunday’s Family Concert. A small yellow bus delivered families from all over the world to Powell Hall to hear Beethoven’s New Groove. Whatever brought them to St. Louis–and I spoke with people from Somalia, Sudan and Iraq–International Institute is their entryway to a new home and a better life. In the process, St. Louis becomes a better place for everyone. The St. Louis Symphony regularly visits the International Institute to play chamber concerts as part of the Music Without Boundaries program (underwritten by MetLife Foundation and Daughters of Charity Foundation St. Louis), but what better way to welcome new arrivals to our city than with a visit to the Symphony’s home?

off the busbig kidsfamily in foyerenteringcellopercussionhis chairfather & sonMany kudos to Anita Barker, VP Director of Education of the International Institute, and Maureen Byrne, Director of St. Louis Symphony Community Programs, for helping to make Sunday such a joyful event.


Brass Extravaganza

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On Wednesday night the On Stage at Powell community concert series gave it up for brass. The concert featured not only St. Louis Symphony brass musicians, but also members of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra brass section. The true extravaganza component of the evening was the addition of close to 50 amateur brass players who came ready to perform. Principal Horn Roger Kaza conducted a full stage of 80 brass players through music by Richard Strauss and W.C. Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues.” What became immediately obvious to those in the ensemble–who ranged in age from 11 to 80–and to those in the audience was that everybody had practiced–a lot.

Brass Extravaganza
Brass Extravaganza

Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, managed a folder-full of logistics to make this event happen. In the end, the On Stage at Powell audience and a lot of brass players went home smiling. The Urban Chestnut beer at the post-show party in the foyer was a part of that too.

Magic Show

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Last Thursday morning, the 442s–Shawn Weil and Bjorn Ranheim from the Symphony and Adam Maness and Syd Rodway from the Erin Bode Group–and recording artist Brian Owens, who is also the Symphony’s IN UNISON Artist-in-Residence, played a concert at the Goldfarb School of Nursing. Goldfarb is one of our partners in the SymphonyCares program and provides an enthusiastic audience of nursing students whenever musicians from the Symphony perform there.

Brian Owens and the 442s at the Goldfarb School of Nursing
Brian Owens and the 442s at the Goldfarb School of Nursing

Along with the nursing students in attendance, orchestra students from Ferguson Middle School came to the show as well. Grace Fitter, Director of Orchestras at Ferguson Middle School, saw the concert as an opportunity for her students to realize that continuing education is accessible and possible for each one of them.

A visit to Goldfarb helps plant the seeds. Hearing Brian Owens introduce himself as a native of Ferguson adds sunlight to help the seeds grow. Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, described the experience afterward: “It was a magic show.”



What It Takes

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What happens on stage, whether that stage be at Powell Hall or a child’s hospital room, takes a lot of hands and hearts and minds to prepare. And I’m not even talking about the orchestral concerts.

For example Mrs. Silva gave up a few hours to make a fork for Max of Where the Wild Things Are to use in the Tiny Tunes concerts for pre-K kids from Grace Hill Head Start.

The aftermath of fork-making looks like Louise Nevelson's studio.
The aftermath of fork-making looks like Louise Nevelson’s studio.
Finished fork
Finished fork

It took three St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association members to create leaves for the children to wave during the concerts.

200 leaves on popsicle sticks
200 leaves on popsicle sticks

Meanwhile, the students at room13delmar, just across the street from Powell Hall, with Ilene Nodhouse, made this swell boat for Max, and a cool set too.

Max's boat
Max’s boat

But that’s just one show. Meanwhile, on Monday Community Programs Director Maureen Byrne was with Claire “The Clown” Wedemeyer and Symphony violinist Angie Smart working on some new bits to perform at children’s hospitals as part of SymphonyCares.

Claire and Angie tango
Claire and Angie tango

For one of the skits, it looks like Claire is doing a Joan Jett impersonation.

Claire channels Joan Jett
Claire channels Joan Jett

Those are just a few of the things we do around here when we’re not playing Bach.

Into the Mystic

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On Wednesday morning a patient at SLU Cancer Center received final chemotherapy leading up to his bone-marrow transplant. A patient going through such a procedure is, and this is more than metaphor, being reborn. The old bone marrow dies, new living tissue enters the system. The staff at SLU have developed a small ritual for such an event, a kind of birthday celebration.

The St. Louis Symphony SymphonyCares program has been partnering with SLU Cancer Center for a number of years. Musicians visit its infusion room once a month and perform for patients receiving chemotherapy. After the program got going, patients began to plan their treatments according to the concert schedule.

With the infusion-room concerts being such a success, Maureen Byrne, Director of Community Programs, thought if there was a birthday party going on at the Cancer Center, the Symphony musicians needed to be a part of it as well.

Allegra Lilly prepares to perform at the St. Louis University Cancer Center.
Allegra Lilly prepares to perform at the St. Louis University Cancer Center.

So for the first time, Wednesday morning, musicians from the Symphony played a requested song on the occasion of one patient’s bone-marrow transplant. Principal Harp Allegra Lilly and First Violin Ann Fink performed Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” in an arrangement by composer and Symphony violist Chris Woehr.

“It was a magical experience” Byrne told me afterward. “For all the logistics, all that went into making this happen … the patients, the staff, the musicians, all were stunned when it was over. It was deeply meaningful, and it was personal.”