The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati have just completed the first year of their innovative Diversity Fellows program.
“Orchestras across the country acknowledge that there are under-represented populations in the world of orchestral music and that the programs to improve representation haven’t worked,” says Christopher Pinelo, vice president of communications for the CSO.
Just as the first class of fellows began their academic and performance work last fall, The League of American Orchestras published a study evaluating orchestra fellowships.
“It’s almost as if this program was designed specifically to address the deficiencies in fellowship programs nationally,” Pinelo says.
“One of the issues identified as a flaw in most fellowship programs is the sense of isolation that fellows experience,” adds Ahmad Mayes, director of education and community engagement with the CSO. “Our program brings in five fellows in year one with an additional five in year two, with the hope that they connect with each other and create a feeling of being in it together. We are also working to ensure that they feel part of the entire orchestra.”
The partnership with CCM is also unique. Each fellow earns an Artist Diploma from CCM — the performance-based equivalent of a master’s degree — while they rehearse and perform with the CSO.
“At first, it was a bit much,” says Fellow Emilio Carlo. “You’re not just a student — you are part of the CSO and we need to keep a level of quality. But I found balance and it was helpful to have colleagues to go to who were in the same situation.”
Carlo’s other Fellows included Diana Flores, Blake-Anthony Johnson, Vijeta Sathyaraj and Maurice Todd. Four of the fellows will be returning to complete the second year of the program. Johnson will not be returning, as he secured a position with the New World Symphony as part of the auditions all fellows are required to participate in during the program.
“What measures success for us is if we are helping these fellows meet the next phase of their career,” says Pinelo. “We are trying to build a supportive environment for them to flourish. They perform with the CSO and Pops on a wide range of materials.”
Auditioning for a professional orchestra is an intense experience, one which the Fellows are more prepared for, thanks to the CSO and CCM.
“My mentor went above and beyond to help me get mentally and physically ready to audition,” says Carlo. “The musical growth I’ve seen in myself and the other Fellows has been fun to watch, and playing with the CSO has been the highest achievement I’ve had.”
The emphasis on real-world experience for the Fellows, rehearsing and performing with the CSO and participating in education and community engagement outreach is a critical part of the program.
“When Peter Landgren (Dean of CCM) came to us about starting a fellowship program, he was drawing on his own experience as a student when he substituted with CSO and the impact that had on his career,” says Mayes. “There is no other fellowship that pairs a degree with professional orchestra performance opportunities.”
As the program, which has been generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, enters its second year, orchestras from around the country are calling to find out how it started, how its working and how it could be replicated.
“The rest of the country is looking to Cincinnati to be a leader in this area,” Pinelo says.
And Cincinnati audiences will hear the benefit of this innovative program as nine Fellows take the stage with the CSO and Pops when they return to Music Hall later this year.