A Utah Symphony Initiative is Making Classical Music More Accessible to Teens

This is a great example of Arts Leadership! We love how teens took the initiative and then won support from a major symphony.

The West High Symphony Club has teamed up with Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (US | UO) to create a “template” for classical music and opera clubs as a way to get teens to concerts.

The West High Symphony Club was inspired by a Jordan High School choir teacher who began an opera club a few years ago. Students of West High went to US | UO for advice on starting their own version, and Paula Fowler, Director of Education and Community Outreach was so delighted by the teenagers’ interest in arts leadership that they formed an official outreach effort. The goal? Debunking the stereotype that classical music is neither accessible nor enjoyed by younger generations.

West student Hailey McLean says, “If you go by yourself, you might feel like a dork or a loner, but when we all go together, I feel like we really make a statement. People don’t expect to see groups of teenagers sacrificing their Friday nights to go to the symphony, but that’s just it. For us, it’s not a sacrifice, but something we love.”

(Sarah A. Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nick Long, 17, and Alex Beck, 16, laugh after they realize they wore the same tie to a Utah Symphony concert. The students are members of the new West High School Symphony Club.

Garnering support from other peers at their schools, however, has been no easy task – many of the club members indicate that it is often near impossible to ask other teenage students to spend their Friday nights at a symphony orchestra concert rather than at a Lady Gaga concert. However, one incentive for many of the girls who attend the club has been the opportunity to dress up and reuse their prom dresses. Although there remains no dress code for membership within the club, students who attend performances often try their best to make the evening as fun as possible!

After working with the West High Symphony Club and witnessing the students’ dedication, the US | UO decided to take the next step by creating the High School Music Club program, which is set to be inaugurated this fall. This program will support students at other local high schools who want to begin their own symphony or opera club, and all participants will receive steep discounts and opportunities within the US | UO network.

“Opera and symphonic music sometimes takes time to appreciate,” West High student Nick Long says. “I have spent most of my life only interested in rock and pop, even after playing the piano for many years. I think everyone should at least give US | UO one night to experience. All music we have now wouldn’t exist if we did not have the works of these great musicians.”

Do you think this partnership model between school and symphony could be applied to other major cities? Is there enough interest in other parts of the country for something like this to work nation-wide?